Chapter 267 Airbird
Aldrich pressed his foot against the accelerator of his car. The sturdy beast of armored dark green roared, its twin etherite powercell engines venting out two tails of fiery exhaust powering the car to speeds over two hundred miles per hour.
"You know what's going on?" said Diamondback, raising his voice to be heard over the constant rumble of the car engines. "I thought you we came to Redrock to show your kid a fun time. Now we're leaving with an iced dead body and no kid in sight."
It had been an hour since Aldrich had driven out of Redrock. That hour was spent in tense silence. For the first half hour, he had gone slow, avoiding suspicion and police encounters. Now, though, he was far enough away from the city that he could hit the gas and go full speed.
The evac point was an hour and a half away, with the last half of the trip being off road to minimize surveillance.
"Unexpected circumstances," said Aldrich. "If you don't mind, I'm keeping the details of what happened under wraps."
"You're suspecting me of leaking info?" asked Diamondback. He was not offended. Just curious.
"Suspicion is a strong word. Careful is more like it. If you're worried about the child, she's safe."
"That's understandable." Diamondback crossed his arms from the backseat and stared at the motion blurred orange-red background of the Wastelands. "I hear you called for air evac from Clint. I would say that's a stupid decision, but you're not the type to make those kind of decisions.
Not intentionally, anyways."
Valera glared back at Diamondback.
"What? Everyone can make mistakes, no matter how sharp you are up here." Diamondback pointed to his temple.
"He's right," said Aldrich. "In this case, it's less mistake and more unpredictability. There's only so much you can prepare for."
"Ain't that right. I haven't seen bots like that before," said Diamondback. "They were tough, but not the worst I've dealt with. It was just the feeling I got from them. They didn't feel entirely machine."
Aldrich raised a brow. "What do you mean?"
"Whenever I fight someone, I can tell when I'm fighting a man or machine. There's a feeling a man gives off that a machine can't replicate. Machines are programming and adaptation, all response to stimuli.
Man is more fluid. There's something about how a man moves that makes them human.
The bot I fought felt mostly machine, but there was an odd bit of man there too."
"I sensed that too," said Valera.
"…I see." Aldrich had not picked up on this because he did not have as much direct combat experience as either Diamondback or Valera. Most of his fighting was done in virtual simulations, which, though hyper-realistic, did not simulate the 'human' aspect of combat too much.
Looking into a simulated Alter's eyes yielded nothing except programming. Much like fighting a machine.
In that regard, Aldrich understood he was below top class martial artists. His technical skill might have been up there from endless drilling, but his ability to read living, thinking beings in the heat of combat fell short of people like Valera and Diamondback who had made long careers out of endless fighting.
Were the machines cyborgs, then? Part man? Not possible. V would have pointed that out immediately.
Perhaps they operated off of a new form of programming that was more human? Maybe they even utilized a downgraded version of True A.I., the type of machine learning that could become sentient.
True A.I. was outlawed after the Altering when a sentient A.I. called Infinity threatened humanity's extinction by taking control over all of its nuclear arsenal and technological infrastructure.
It took the heroic sacrifice of Omega, a legendary techno, to infiltrate the A.I.'s mind and destroy it.
Omega sacrificed his own mind in the process, and the resulting aftermath caused a sort of psychic rift that created the Cyberverse.
This was the Omega Expansion that Randall had talked about, when technology inextricably merged with the Cyberverse.
But true A.I. was basically extinct now. The Panop-AA complex in cooperation with world governments made sure of that, strictly destroying anyone that tried developing such programs.
The likelihood that Aldrich was dealing with True A.I. was low, but not an impossibility.
Recent events had stretched Aldrich's definition of 'impossible' further and further. Soon, he figured, he would throw away that word entirely form his vocabulary, replacing it at best with 'improbable.'
"Another thing I noticed: we aren't getting harassed by hunters," said Diamondback.
"The open contract's been called off," said Aldrich. V had informed him of this at the start of his car ride. It was a surprise, but a pleasant one. A much needed reprieve after bad surprise after bad surprise.
"Calling off a big open contract like that after what, a day? That's not good business practice, even for the Dark Six. Hunters will lose trust in their contracts now," said Diamondback. He raised a bushy black brow. "The only explanation I can think of is they're dealing with something big.
Big enough that they can't afford to keep eyes and ears on this contract.
I don't like the feeling of this. Something big's brewing in the Underworld.
And when it blows, it's going to get bad."
"Things are already bad," said Aldrich. He could visualize Chrysa clearly, suffering in the Domain, her little body twisting and turning, the tears in space growing deeper .
With silent gasps, she mouthed the word 'father'.
Aldrich was not her real father, but…he still felt her pain. Her fear. Her loneliness. He saw the suffering he felt when his parents were torn from him reflected starkly back at him.
Whether he felt these emotions so strongly because he was linked with Chrysa did not matter.
What he did know for sure was that he was going to get to the bottom of this, no matter what it took. "And I'm going to make sure someone pays for it."
Aldrich reached the off road evacuation point without issue. The airbird was already waiting for him, landed atop cracked earth on its two legs. Tripod toes drilled firmly into the earth, anchoring the airbird in place.
These legs were the defining feature of the airbird and the reason for its namesake, making it look somewhat like a perched bird. This function let the airbird anchor to most surfaces reliably, letting it evacuate across a variety of terrain.
The rear cargo door was open, funneling out a ramp that Aldrich drove into. The moment he did, the ramp retracted and the hatch closed. The airbird's engines whirred as it hovered in the air, its legs folding into its belly to maintain aerodynamic shape.
Aldrich got out of the car with Valera and Diamondback.
"Hey boss!" Fisk waved from the cargo hold entrance. "Good to see you again. Heard we're in some real shit. If there's anything I can do for you, I've got your back."
Fisk flashed an optimistic smile that looked a little too innocent for his biker gang getup of mohawk blonde hair and motorcycle jacket. Then again, this was just how Fisk was.
"I appreciate it," said Aldrich. "V didn't need you?"
"Naw. Me and Spybird both got some time off from her to fly this thing." Fisk sighed. "V, now, she's a looker alright, I could totally see her as that cute e-girl. Totally my type, if it wasn't for the fact that she works me like a farm dog."
"Take it as a compliment. She's a perfectionist through and through, and if she thought you were going to hurt her standards, I don't think she would have let you near anything she did."