The final component of Bridge’s escape plan was the most important and most perilous, as Bridge had to rely on Wong to pull it off. Since he was the only one besides Carl who could fly, he would be able to reach the dragon-man faster than anyone else. The two of them could escape as the bird flies, avoiding any checkpoints. But they would also need to create the biggest diversion, pulling off a pantomime act that would distract the corporations, governments and media from the real escape while also setting up the mythology Bridge had hastily crafted.
Carl had been seen multiple times as the dragon. If the last message the technomancers had received from him was accurate, he would eventually be caught and killed if he hadn’t already been. Bridge knew the mentality of the Legios management. They would want to capture the dragon and dissect it, and the federal government wouldn’t be far behind them. If they managed that feat, they would have their hands on a mana engine. They’d figure out how to recreate the technology somehow. Bridge had to give them Carl, or at least the illusion that they had taken care of Carl, but without letting them actually have him or his technology. That particular sleight of hand was going to be tricky, but like all magic, it had to be done in plain sight.
As soon as the dome dropped, Wong sent a message to Carl. The technomancers could communicate with each other on a GlobalNet sublevel that possessed the same impenetrable electronic invisibility that the mana engine gave to their physical forms. The message outlined the plan and set up a rendezvous point. Wong would meet Carl and the two of them would head towards the nearest checkpoint, staying out of sight. Once there, they would send the empty dragon skin illusion on an errand of mayhem, attacking the nearest opposition it could find as loudly as possible. In the end, the dragon would lose and be destroyed, at which point the two technomancers were to fly to a rendezvous with the rest of the group before driving on to the Naturalist compound.
Of course, merely sending the dragon out to die wouldn’t establish the technomancer’s reputation. Bridge assumed the Legios Corporation or the feds would do their best to keep the dragon under wraps until they could devise a plausible cover story. Bridge needed his version of the story to get out, needed the world to see the magic, to establish the technomancer brand. Wong would send a nanobot camera to take up a position behind the checkpoint and film the whole thing. A little creative editing and extensive viral distribution would reveal the technomancers to the world, thanks to the dogged freelance journalism of Sanderson Fielding.
Fielding didn’t exist, of course. Once clear, Bridge would put Angela on the task of creating him from thin air, crafting an imaginary persona that could populate the video without the worry that an actual journo would get shut down by the corporations. Once in the wild, the video would spread the brand far and wide.
Bridge watched the video hours later at the Naturalist compound. It was impressive. The raw footage was spectacular, and the work Angela’s guys did with the final product was genius. As soon as the dome dropped, the Legios Rangers and the Guard moved towards Boulder with whatever vehicles they could find handy. The columns of car golems slowed them down briefly, but once armed vehicles moved up into the town, the columns of Legios’ Gunheds and Guard APC’s made short work of the metal army. The road ahead of the Guard was littered with smoldering heaps of metal, makeshift arms blown off torsos, craters in the pavement smoking, dust and dirt and smoke obscuring the road.
The camera panned up quickly, as if startled. The sound of shrieking modems pierced the air. The fiery form of Carl’s dragon swooped out of the sun, a shimmering silhouette with a massive wingspan diving into battle. The dragon dodged a line of tracer bullets fired from the machine gun mounted on the back of an APC, gracefully twisting right before opening its mouth to unleash a gout of flame that crackled with tiny rivulets of lightning. The APC exploded in a shower of burning bodies and shrapnel. The camera mimicked its bearer going prone. Carl’s digitally-enhanced voice boomed out over the landscape.
“This city is ours!” it screamed, the sound of a thousand nails on a chalkboard. “You intrude on the domain of the technomancers at your peril!” Another fireball torched a swath of road before igniting a Gunhed, sending its occupants scattering in screaming panic. The dragon landed on a Guard APC, wrapping its talons around the jeep before lifting it into the air with awe-inspiring strength. Having reached its desired height, the dragon tossed the APC. The camera tracked the vehicle’s flight path directly overhead, following it to its landing point on top of another Gunhed.
Several more minutes of wanton destruction followed before the Guard brought up the heavy gear, a pair of massive tanks. The dragon laughed at the tanks, spitting fire at the nearest. Though absolutely engulfed in flames, the tank continued rolling towards its target. The camera shook dizzyingly as both tanks fired in tandem. The first missed. The second caught the dragon full in the chest, exploding a hole directly through the beast in a shower of sparkling embers. The dragon recoiled in pain, its scream echoing through the hills. A third cannon shot shook the air, and the dragon lost a wing, its graceful flight turning into a sickening, twisting death spiral. The ground shook again as the dragon slammed into it full force. The snow instantly melted around it, clumps of flaming dirt flying into the air.
The crater it left behind was swathed in smoke and steam, and the camera zoomed in awkwardly for a glimpse. For long moments, the area was still as the tanks rolled forward. Finally, a flickering claw reached up to grab the lip of the crater. The beast staggered up, its chest bleeding fire and ash. The tanks fired again, blasting its arm off and throwing it back against the far side of the crater. It stood one final time, its jaw slack as it spoke its final words.
“They’re everywhere! Tanks and soldiers. I’m hit bad. I don’t think I’m going to make it. I can’t believe it. I didn’t think it was possible. They’ve killed a technomancer.”
With that final statement, the exact phrase Bridge had heard before echoing throughout the GlobalNet, the dragon evaporated into a fine ash that blew away on the wind.
Go to Epilogue - Part 1.0
Thursday, July 16, 2009