We reach our destination the next evening. Even from a distance, we can see the miasma fog settled over the little valley. As it drifts, we can sometimes make out the roof of the small hut containing the network node. Way, way off in the distance one of Morgan’s domes lights up the darkening sky, as does another similarly located in the opposite direction. “Do you suppose they’re keeping this area clear of fungus?” I ask. “Like the bots keep spraying it down?”
Cleve points out where some mushroom shrubs were definitely cut down in the past, but the area has since regrown. Probably they had to clear a bunch when they laid the transmission pipeline down, but there has been no effort to maintain that. The miasma is too thick for us to see the area right around the node, though. At least from here.
Cleve guides us in a little closer. We pick our way carefully down the hill until we can more easily discern the hut. If this is how thick the miasma fog is at night, I’m glad we’re not in this valley during the day when it’s worse. Occasionally we see flashes of light, so we pause and watch more closely. The security bots are about four feet tall and move around on treads. There are two of them—at least. We can’t see them all the time, but periodically one will stop, flash on its lights for an inspection, and then randomly choose a new direction to patrol. This is more annoying than anything I dealt with in my youth. These aren’t just some mall cops on a standard beat; this is true randomness, or as close to it as computers can come. And each bot is on its own randomized pattern. The only limitations as far as we can tell are that they don’t travel outside a set radius of the node and they are biased away from crashing into the shed itself. At one point they spot each other, but they are smart enough to not identify the other as a threat.
After we’ve watched long enough to determine that, Cleve checks with Corazon, “Radio signals don’t work here? Nothing?”
“Very, very limited range. These have to be autonomous,” she tells him.
“I’m thinking a trap,” Cleve says.
I smile at the mental image of him digging out a pit and covering it with sticks and leaves. “Is the radio situation so bad that those two robots are not close enough to talk to each other wirelessly?” I ask Cor.
“Eh, if they get close enough they might be able to do a short burst of exchanges. They’re not that close right now, but… You see how they are moving around.”
“So it might be possible to take one of them out, and the other one wouldn’t know?”
Cleve unclips a grenade from his belt and hefts it. It’s an EMP he picked up from someone at Data Haven, and as long as he’s not inside the shed when it goes off, the node will be safe from it. We don’t have time to lie in wait until the bots are close enough to each other to disable them both with the blast. Cleve resolves to take one of the security bots out with it, leaving an opening for me and Cor to get to the building. He’ll just have his rifle to deal with the other bot, but hopefully it won’t come to that.
We all mask up, and Cor also pulls out the preventative Dr. Citali gave her. There are a list of instructions and warnings with it, which she pretty much disregards. I snatch them and stick them in my satchel. “Remember, that can cause hallucinations,” I remind her. “If you see somebody who you don’t expect to be here, check with one of us! If I tell you somebody’s not here, they’re not.”
“We’re not supposed to be here, but we are,” she retorts. She has a point. And really, I’m not even supposed to be on this planet. “Don’t worry, Mariah, I know you’re real,” she adds lightly, giving me a friendly little shove in the arm. Then she slams the injector into the meat of her shoulder. The effects kick in right away: her breathing stutters but quickly evens out. She shakes that off, unconcerned.
Cleve disappears into the miasma, and it occurs to me that, protected as we are from the ill respiratory effects, it’s actually quite useful for this job. There’s no need to dash from tree to rock when the air itself provides cover.
Corazon and I wait. She’s vibrating with anticipation next to me, hand ready on the miasma blower’s trigger. Then we hear, “Warning! This is the Morgan Autonomous Security-Tron. This is a restricted area. You need to leave immediately.” A light springs on somewhere off to the right side of the cabin. When the bot issues its second warning, we take our cue to go. Cleve hasn’t disabled it, but he has definitely distracted it, and that will have to do.