War and Peace: Chapter 48

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Chapter 48

August never returned to her cubicle.

She went to her car and sat with the engine on and the heat going and called Richard Kirkpatrick.

A youthful female voice answered the phone. "Hello?"

"Angela Kirkpatrick?"

"Yes, who's this?"

"My name is August Evans. I don't know if you'll remember me."

"Oh, of course. The friend who came with James to visit. Are things going well?"

Either Angela had misapprehended the circumstances, or August was misapprehending the question. Her brain was spinning from too many other worries to sort it out.

"Life's a madhouse," she said. "You know."

"Believe me, I know. Well, to what do I owe this call?"

"I need to speak with Richard. Please tell him it's very urgent."

Thirty seconds of silence was appended by a much deeper voice. "Kirkpatrick here."

August took a deep breath. "Mr. Kirkpatrick—"

"Ms. Evans. I expected it must be either you or my idiot son. Since it's you, I further expect this is not a false alarm. Can you explain over the phone?"

August had to rearrange her entire thought pattern at having both sides of the conversation completed for her. Richard Kirkpatrick: a terrifying man.

"I'd prefer not to," she said.

"A wise preference. Come visit me. Is there any special equipment you would like prepared?"

"One quick question. Are you a mind reader?"

"If only, Ms. Evans."

***

From UCC to the mansion was a four hour trip doing the speed limit, assuming no wrong turns and no skidding into a ditch on the uncleared roads winding into the foothills. August pushed the pace to the red line. Time was of the essence, but short of flying to Australia or setting up shop in the viper's nest at UCC, the mansion was the only place she could go.

Bryce and crew still believed some bug or technical error was the problem, but that conclusion had been foolish even hours ago. Why Richard Kirkpatrick had become so ready and willing to assist was something that worried August only slightly. He was the one who first divined that UCC had created an evolving AI. He had also predicted that a crisis was inevitable because of it. For all August knew, he had spent the entire time since then in preparation for this day.

Maybe he thought he was saving humanity. Maybe he didn't care so long as it was interesting. Regardless, August needed a powerful ally, and Richard Kirkpatrick was surely that.

There was one problem. August had no method of contacting the third link of her own team. She was just contemplating how inconvenient it was to work with a suspected intelligence mole when her phone rang.

"August Evans," she said.

"Good afternoon. Imran Muhammad speaking."

"It's useful having a team full of psychics."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Nothing. Hold on, why are you calling yourself by your own name?"

"As you have surely noticed by what is going on within Shattered Land, I am afraid the time for caution has passed."

"Too bloody right. I was trying to figure out how to contact you."

"I would have phoned sooner, but it took this long to flee my pursuit."

"Seems things on your end are a bit sticky."

"Indeed. Now, I assume there is something you need in regard to our situation?"

August wondered how much she could say without giving away the entire plan to whoever or whatever might be listening. With so many disparate trains of thought crossing rails in her head, it was hard to keep everything straight. Doing it while weaving in and out of traffic on slick winter roads was another thing altogether.

"I'm worried about interference," she said. "I have someone I hope can handle the digital end, but if they come with actual guns on foot, we'll be done for."

"And you would like me to ... assist with that end?"

"Can you?"

There was a pause.

"Have we truly come to this?"

"You said yourself, the time for caution's past."

"So I did. Very well. How much time remains to us?"

"None. Our base of operations is the Kirkpatrick mansion. If they're listening, they already know that, so they could be on the way. I'm under the assumption we're up against the alphabets, but it's possible what's going on is outside their control. There might be three sides to this."

"We lack information," Imran said. "The situation is highly suboptimal."

"That's one way of putting it. I've an idea, but I need at least four hours. Three to get there, one to do it. Until then, all we can do is protect ourselves."

"I have contacts that can set up a perimeter within ninety minutes. Please advise Mr. Kirkpatrick. It would be rather unfortunate to end by shooting each other in the dark."

"You've a way with understatement."

"Perhaps it is rather that in America, there is a tendency to overstate."

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