Chapter 3 - Mysterious Message
The Cloud - Book 1
Landon watched as he laid prone on the top of the decrepit building. Through the scope of the AX-50 sniper rifle, he could see small figures dash from one building to another on the other side of the courtyard.
“Marley watch your six. Decker just exited the building about fifteen seconds behind you,” he warned his team member through the mic on his headset.
“Why didn’t you take him out,” came the tinny response.
“You can handle it. If I fire now, my position will be blown.”
“See, I told you that you could handle it.”
“Yeah, whatever asshole,” Marley grunted.
“Team, position check,” Landon said.
“Twenty seconds from the target. Coming in from sector B2 Cap,” Felix said.
“I see you. Where is Minx?”
“Approaching the target from building C3. I can disarm it if you guys can provide cover,” Minx’s high-pitched voice informed.
“Hold your position, Minx. Fallon, where are you at?”
“Moving through C4, coming in behind Minx,” Fallon said.
“Is everyone in position?”
“In position,” Marley confirmed.
“We’re covered from my side,” Felix confirmed.
“Almost there… Alright, I got your back Minx,” Fallon said.
“Now! Minx get it disarmed,” Landon nearly yelled into the mic as he watched three of the remaining opposition ran to sector D3 to D2, taking the long pass to sector B2 where Marley was waiting for them. It would take thirty seconds for the nuke to disarm so they would have to cover her for the remaining twelve seconds.
Shots rang out as the first of the blue team rounded the building, closing in on Marley’s position. He was ready with his semi-automatic rifle and took down the first one that came into his sights. A second later, Marley’s marker disappeared at the same time as an explosion bloomed in his section.
“Damn it,” Landon heard Marley say through his earbud. “I’m down.”
When the blue player named TommyG came running through the explosions smoke, he ran right into Landon’s crosshairs. Landon took the shot.
HEADSHOT! displayed across his screen as the third blue player ran past the B2 sector to take sector B3. This would bring the player up behind Minx’s position where she was steadily working on disarming the nuke.
“Fallon you’re going to have company in about five seconds.”
“Got it,” Fallon said.
“Eight seconds until the nuke is disarmed,” Minx said.
Fallon’s marker went out.
Landon trained his sights on the doorway to the building in B3.
INCOMING MESSAGE ALERT!
The alert scrawled itself across Landon’s vidscreen. He swiped it away as quick as he could and refocused on the doorway just in time to send a shot at the blue player named LokiX.
HEADSHOT displayed across Landon’s screen again. A few seconds later it was replaced with WINNER!
“Good job team. Hey, I have to go for a few minutes. Be right back.”
Landon ended his connection to the game and pulled up the message that had almost cost him the match. He selected the playback icon and watched as his girlfriend’s visage came on the screen.
“Listen, I don’t have much time. Some big news just came into Director Wiess’s office and he has called for a shut-in,” she said, quietly in the recording. “The news was sent in an encrypted message by a Professor Alfred McNeil. The message was so heavily encrypted, it doesn’t even hint at where it was sent from. Sounds mega important. Anyways, I won’t be able to make it this weekend and I won’t be able to contact you while we’re in shut down, so I will talk to you soon. Love you.”
Landon watched as the woman he had been dating for the past year, blew him a kiss and ended the transmission.
“Hmmm…” Landon grunted, interested.
Landon switched his attention back to his combat team on the game.
“Listen, something came up. I have to step away for a bit.”
“Damn, we need to practice. The CX Competition starts in a week,” Marley complained.
“I know, I know. I’ll try to get back on this evening around eight-ish,” Landon consoled.
Landon switched off the VR console, went to his comp-center, and began searching his resources to find out who this Professor Albert McNeil was.
His command center, that’s what he called it, took up an entire half of the basement. There were vid-panels of various sizes positioned in a crescent shape in the corner of the large space. The multiple vid panels were connected to a bank of eight interconnected towers that he had built himself. Each tower boasted a motherboard containing a 32-core computer processor. The entire system was fast, faster than any home rig had the right to be at any rate.
Landon started with a search of the professor. This was easy. The man had a host of papers published and even a few books. He worked at the University of Colorado in the Astronomy Department as a professor of Astrophysics.
“No big deal that an Astrophysics professor is sending messages to the Space Force,” he said to himself.
Copying the professor’s university comm ID into a program he had developed, he let the algorithm do its work. Within a few minutes, the school’s encryption was broken. There were no messages to or from the Space Force in his archives. There were only messages from students and faculty members, a reservation confirmation for a hotel, academic journal issues, and some bank statements.
He was about to exit the program when the date and location of the hotel reservation caught his eye. Selecting the message, he saw that the hotel was located in Washington D.C., and if he was not mistaken, it was awfully close to the pentagon and scheduled for this evening.
Well, isn’t that interesting, he thought. Why are you in such a hurry to get to D.C.?
Landon copied down the address and sent the picture of the good professor to his datapad. Pulling up the hotel on another screen, he made a reservation for the hotel which cost him nearly five hundred credits, and began putting his systems to sleep.
Once his command center was cooling down, Landon made his way up to the master bedroom, took a shower in the spacious walk-in, cleaned up his appearance with a quick shave that left his face baby smooth, and threw on a clean set of clothes. He quickly packed a bag and grabbed his one and only suit that was hanging at the back of his closet, still in the plastic covering that it had been placed into the last time it had been dry cleaned.
Landon looked at his wrist chrono, he still had seven hours to get to the hotel and check-in before the professor did. Grabbing his matte black electronics case, he placed his hand scanner, high-tech datapad, and TechGlasses on the memory foam liner and closed the case with a snap. When he heard the mechanical whirring and an audible click, he took his clothes bag in his other hand, satisfied that he had everything he needed.
On his way out the door, he set the alarm and turned out the lights. Walking into his garage, he set the outer door to lifting. In his garage, he looked at his sleek, blood-red Valiant Q7 with pride before stowing his bag and case and climbing in. Landon set the auto-nav with the hotel’s address and saw that the estimated time of arrival was in almost six hours.
Why are you in such a hurry to get to D.C. Professor? Landon wondered again as the hover took off on its journey from Springfield, Massachusetts to D.C.