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Chapter 6: Closing the Net
Grunting softly, he squeezed himself through the narrow opening he'd made, not daring to open the shed door further for fear of making noise. The large park was far enough away from the hospital to thwart any potential pursuit, and close enough to a main road for him to catch a taxi back to the south end so he could retrieve his stash. He'd already disposed of the nurse's scrubs and ID by throwing them into a sewer.
At this point he didn't care if the girl had been resuscitated or not; it was enough to have sent the message to the Foundation people that none of them were safe. The final part of his plan was to come.
Peter tried valiantly to suppress a yawn as he walked into the office. It was past midnight and he was totally drained after the events of the day. A cup of hot coffee appeared in his hand and he smiled his thanks as he settled in one of the chairs.
"One thing I don't miss about this job is operating on caffeine and adrenaline," Michael said as he poured a cup for himself and put the carafe aside. "I used to wonder if Devon ever slept, considering that he drank tea all the time." He sat back down at the desk.
"Yeah, it gives the kidneys a workout, that's for sure," Peter commiserated. "Especially on all-night stakeouts. Anyway, Halston's house was practically immaculate. I think he expected to return at some point. There was one room though that was full of tools and electronic equipment, which was probably where he constructed the drones."
With a nod, Michael said, "I looked at your pictures. Good work."
He took a gulp of his coffee. "KITT was totally freaked out by some of them. I don't blame him, after seeing plans for the machine that almost killed him. But it was the news about Mikayla that affected him more. He didn't say anything but I could feel it in the way the car was vibrating."
"That close, are they?" Michael asked with a genuine curiosity.
Peter smirked. "If he were a human, I'd be jealous."
The former agent put his coffee cup down and set his elbows on the desk, interlacing his fingers. "Except at the very beginning, I never thought of KITT as anything but human. I once told him that if it came to a choice between him and the car, it would always be him." He gazed thoughtfully at the dark liquid in his cup. "He might be a collection of chips and circuits but he's still a person."
Stretching his legs out, Peter said, "Preaching to the choir here. Speaking of, where is everyone?"
"Alex and Joe Flanagan have gone night crawling to find Halston's gear. I told everyone else to get some sleep while they can. We're expecting an update on Mikayla's condition soon, and then we should try to get some rest as well."
"What happened earlier?" Peter was certain that he wouldn't like the answer but he wanted to know.
Michael pursed his lips as he organized his thoughts. "Apparently Halston kidnapped one of the night nurses and assumed his identity. He was able to get past security and gave her a drink spiked with a massive dose of morphine."
"My God!" His exclamation was echoed by KITT through his earpiece.
"She coded twice before the antidote kicked in, but they finally got her stabilized. I ordered the Foundation's doctor to attend, and the only ones allowed in hers and Charles' rooms now are him and the head nurse." Michael dropped his head to rest on his hands for a moment. "What I don't understand is why Halston only attacked her and not Charles too."
KITT's voice came over his com-link. "His injuries were more serious. Perhaps Mr. Halston calculated that Charles was more at risk of dying than Mikayla was."
"Nevertheless, we already know that we're all targets," Peter said. "But we can't sit and wait until he makes his next move."
"I've a gut feeling," said Michael, "that we'll find out what it is soon."
One minute after 5 AM, all the phones in the mansion began to ring simultaneously. Both Michael and Peter were shaken out of a doze in the armchairs where they'd relaxed earlier. KITT's urgent voice came through on their comms. "I've detected eight of those squirrel-like robots moving across the grounds."
Peter hollered, "Why didn't the exterior sensors pick them up?"
"Those sensors are calibrated for human-sized sources," KITT replied. "Otherwise wildlife would be setting off the alarms too often."
"More to the point, why didn't you pick them up sooner?" Michael barked. "Issue this order to the security team," he continued without waiting for KITT's answer. "They are to shoot anything non-human that moves, except for you!"
Brenda, still in her pyjamas and wide-eyed in alarm, rushed into the office. "What–?"
"Inform the staff," Peter told her. "Stay away from the exterior walls. Those who are on their way here should not approach. Go!" She whirled and flew down the hall.
Gunfire erupted outside.
Michael addressed his com-link again. "KITT, how can so many of those things be controlled simultaneously?"
"They aren't," was KITT's reply. "I'm not detecting any signals. They appear to have been programmed for independent actions."
"Disable as many as you can with your EMP," Peter ordered.
KITT said, "Moving to intercept."
"Joe's going to kill us," Peter muttered darkly.
Despite the situation, Michael uttered a brief bark of laughter. "Better some flowers and grass than us."
"Alert! Alert!" came the strident voice of one of the security officers over the house comm. "Bogey spotted at the second-floor northwest window!"
"What?!" Peter yelled.
The word had barely left his mouth when Michael cannoned into him, pushing him toward the door. They both fell in the doorway as the room exploded, showering everything with glass, stucco, and chunks of brick.
"Michael? Peter?" KITT called anxiously through the com-link. "Michael?!"
"Yeah, KITT," Michael choked out, and began to cough uncontrollably as dust swirled around them.
Peter managed to drag himself upright and helped the older man stumble into the fresher air of the hallway. "KITT, we're okay. Can't say the same for the office, though. You just concentrate on finding those robots."
It was over in moments. Aside from the one robot that had managed to scale the building, the rest of them had been shot, disabled, or had exploded prematurely. The once-pristine acreage was now torn up by tire tracks, bullet holes, and two craters in addition to the one that had been inflicted the previous morning.
Peter's phone rang. He fumbled to answer it, not quite seeing who the caller was. "Foundation for–"
"Is everyone okay?" Alex's voice cut him off. "What the hell's going on over there, a war?"
He cleared his throat. "Yeah, we're okay. Halston left another surprise for us."
"You're not kidding," Alex said soberly. "Believe it or not, we heard some of it from here. And we found his campsite. As Mr. Knight suspected, there were traps: a tripwire across the path and what looks like a pressure sensor in the bottom of the tent. Right now, we're hiding on the ridge above. If he shows up, we'll see him. If he doesn't, someone will have to come up here and disarm these things before an unsuspecting hiker gets hurt."
"Good, keep in touch." He hung up, then turned to see Michael leaning in the doorway, looking mournfully at the large hole where the corner window used to be.
"This house is more than a century old," remarked the ex-agent. "We should be thankful that the architect used stone and double brick in the walls, or that would've been a lot worse."
"Believe me, I am," Peter said. "But I don't want to think about how much it's going to cost to get that repaired with the proper materials."
Michael clapped him on the shoulder. "We'll worry about that later." He raised his left wrist. "KITT, do you read me, buddy?"
"Loud and clear, Michael."
"Do a perimeter scan out to the distance of one mile. I want to know if there are more of those drones, or any other electronic signals for that matter, near this place."
A few seconds passed, then KITT reported, "Aside from the FLAG wi-fi, the perimeter sensors, and the phones and radios belonging to the people currently on the estate, I detect both Alex and Joseph's phones located a half mile southeast of here. Satellite imagery shows the campsite clearly, and within it are the trigger devices that Alex described plus a piece of electronic equipment which seems to currently be inactive."
"It looks like there might be at least one more trick up Halston's sleeve," Peter commented.
"I'll bet that he's saved the worst for last," said Michael with a dour expression.
He cursed inwardly as he checked the footage from the tiny drone camera that had been watching over his campsite. Two men had come during the night and carefully avoided the traps he'd set, which told him that these weren't just random hikers, they'd known exactly what they were doing. Chances were, they were Foundation men, and he didn't put it past them to be spying on the site from somewhere nearby.
If he had to abandon this aspect of his plan, so be it. He had one more piece of the legacy that his father had left to him, and it would be quite satisfying to use it. In the meantime, he'd leave something to keep those two meddlers busy. He pressed an icon on his phone, and then turned and walked back the way he had come.
The com-links beeped insistently. "Michael, Peter, I just detected a new electronic signal in the vicinity of–"
A loud 'pop' sounded in the distance. Seconds later, Peter's phone rang. He put it on speaker.
"He must be here somewhere!" came Alex's frantic voice. He sounded like he'd been exerting himself. "He just set off the explosives around his campsite! The hills are tinder dry; Joe and I are trying to contain what we can."
"You didn't see him?" Peter asked.
"No," Alex said, panting. "He didn't pass us. The other end of this trail crosses a dirt road about a mile to the northeast. If you're lucky you can catch him there. Don't worry about us, we'll bail if it gets too bad." He hung up.
Michael was already on the desk phone. "Fire Marshal? Michael Knight of the Foundation for Law and Government. …Yes, I'll explain later, but you need to get a fire crew up to Pardee Hills, approximately half a mile southeast of this location. …Thank you, sir." He glanced over at Peter. "Let's go."
The younger man stared at him. "I thought you said you couldn't–"
"I know what I said," he cut in fiercely. "But I started this 35 years ago. I'm going to finish it." He activated his com-link. "KITT, meet us at the front door."
"Right away, Michael."