01010100 01111001 01110000 01100101 00100000 01111001 01100101 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110000 01110010 01101111 01100011 01100101 01100101 01100100 00101110 01000101 01110010 01110010 01101111 01110010 00101110 00100000 01010000 01110010 01100101 01110011 01110011 00100000 01100001 01101110 01111001 00100000 01100010 01110101 01110100 01110100 01101111 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110010 01100101 01110011 01110100 01100001 01110010 01110100 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101110 01110100 01101001 01101110 01110101 01100101 00101110 00100000
The strange, flat, glowing rock filled with numbers. As Daphne adjusted her hold on it her left thumb accidentally pressed down on one of the smooth patches.
The surface brightened for a second before shutting off as quickly as it had turned on. In the eerie silence Daphne could hear something whirring inside of it for a few seconds before it, too, grew still.
She shook the rock to see if she could get it to light up again.
Daphne slumped her shoulders and was just about the deposit the stone into her knapsack when the whirring began again.
Slowly the light returned, and then a nonsensical message appeared on the flat side of the rock.
Tap any button to continue.
She slapped the side of the stone. No response.
Holding it in her left hand, she poked the middle of it with her right index finger. Once again the screen filled with words moving so fast Daphne had no way of absorbing them all. When the display ended a row of two-dimensional boxes lined up on the bottom of the rock. They reminded her a little of the wooden blocks her sons played with as children.
She glanced up at dark clouds scratching the horizon and clicked on messages.
I spoke to my CO. There’s no reason for the trackers to be malfunctioning. Are you sure you’re calibrating them properly before they’re inserted?
This study is a bust anyway. We’re no closer to catching the smugglers and R&D hasn’t been able to identify what makes the rednecks’ immune systems so much more resistant to this strain than we’re seeing in our population. My best guess is that their abysmal diets and total lack of medical care kills off anyone who doesn’t have an iron stomach. Survival of the fittest and all.
At the rate this is going I doubt you’ll still be there at Festivus. The governor isn’t going to keep spending money on a project that hasn’t lead to any breakthroughs.
Keep sending in your reports, though. Gotta cover your ass until the big guns officially decide this is a waste of time.
The group listened quietly as Daphne started reading the next message. She saw her sons trudging back up the riverbank, two animals in tow. For once Flapjack was walking quietly even with a rope tied around his neck.
VICTORY IN MINGUS.
We just received word that our troops have subdued a small settlement called Mingus in the territory formerly known as Arizona.
While the search continues for Dr. Spring and his associates we apprehended several individuals who lead us to his whereabouts. As soon as we’ve finished restoring order to this community we will be returning to the capital with the accused where they will receive a fair trial in exchange for the immunological data we need in order to finish the vaccine.
More information will be forthcoming as it becomes available. In the meantime your commanding officers will be issuing double rations and a half-day holidays. Please stay tuned to your teleprompters for the governor’s speech that will air at 17:00….
In the corner of her eye Daphne spotted a flash of light at the horizon.
“We won’t make it back to my place in time,” Mariposa said. “But we should get away from the water.” The lightning was erratic so far, but Daphne thought she could hear the faint rumble of thunder. If nothing else the storm would make the banks so muddy that climbing up them with two reluctant animals would be extremely difficult. They’d come back for the body later.
Daphne tucked the stone into her knapsack and walked to the top of the hill with her companions. As she began descending on the other side of it Ephraim noticed a small depression in the rock. It wasn’t quite large enough to shelter one person, but at least they could take turns avoiding some of the storm. He’d noticed his mother limping as they cautiously climbed over the steepest part of the hill and insisted that she take the first turn in the makeshift shelter.
“While we’re here you might as well keep reading,” Sean said. Daphne nodded in agreement, and once she found a place to sit she began combing through the rest of the messages. Official documents were unfailingly positive accounts of breakthroughs just around the corner, but casual messages told a different story. More than once she wished she had her dictionary with her. There were so many words Daphne had never heard of before. Wireless. Election. Plastic. Insurgent. Treason. Commercial.
Embryonic governments had formed and dissolved over and over again. For a time New Texas was so stable that its influence had occasionally reached Mingus before it, too, went silent after a few years of drought. As a young woman Daphne had heard rumours of a queen living in South California, but it had been many years since anyone had sent word or supplies from that kingdom.
A cold raindrop bounced off the end of her nose and onto the stone as she read. She brushed it off with the cleanest fold in her tunic she could find and scrolled to the next page. A list of names and numbers caught her attention as she browsed.
Aberdeen, Mimi 3139 4002 6566 1091
Acero, Robert 1291 3026 9799 8564
Aden, Anna 9538 5028 3374 0123 DEACTIVATED.
Another word she’d never heard of before.
“Does anyone know what this means?” Daphne read the name aloud as the clouds squeezed out every last drop of moisture from their perch.