The soft roar of the river danced between the tall pines around Opal. Watching through the lens of her IFV, SD-1 climbed down from the pine tree that housed Relay-Node 2. The pine tree had its top cut down enough to house the roughly made RN. Measuring 2ft by 2ft with four small salvaged solar panels and a banged-up antenna – all salvaged from a destroyed IFV.
A dull shadow danced over Opal and she looked up. High above, thick white clouds crawled across; blocking out most of the blue sky. A small black dot appeared momentarily before disappearing behind a cloud. The AI turned her attention back to the turned dark dirt that was the Sybel River’s road.
Haiafe had finally grown used to the spider-like drones. His sister, on the other hand, was still enraptured on how the metal constructs moved. Against Opal’s desire, turning down her constant inquires into how she functioned didn’t dissuade her. In fact, it only seemed to stoke Syfa’s curiosity even more. Like now.
“That’s seriously amazing!” Syfa exclaimed as she stood by the IFV’s foremost right leg. “Your helper is quite the handy one!” She beamed a smile down on the spider-drone as it crawled up the Opal’s leg.
“Yes, the Spider-Drones were designed for construction purposes,” Opal answered. “It is their prime directive.” Opal backed away from the tree whilst marking it on her HUD’s map.
[RELAY NODE 2 activated – Sybel River’s entry updated. Be advised — Large grouping of structures detected to 16 miles south-east.]
The notification displayed on the HUD as Opal watched Syfa climb back into the wagon’s coach seat. Haiafe was currently nodding off in the cargo area of the wagon. He was sprawled out happily over several wooden crates… Drooling. Opal examined him as she took up the rear and they made their way down the road. As they went, the surrounding forest was filled with the dull heavy thumping of the IFV; accompanied by the soft whine of the servos.
SD-1 perched itself on top of the 20mm turret, almost like it was copying Haiafe in his sunbathing nap. Both were sprawled out as well, but Opal didn’t dignify it with her attention. She pushed all her processes on scanning the surrounding forest for threats. There had already been several times when she’d tagged large moving figures in the thicket. However, without a clear hostile response, Opal refused to open fire.
[Geographical map completed — Updating map.]
Just as the system notification came up, the minimap was filled in. Opal didn’t have to open the map the know what was on it. Omega Ark had crashed near the top of the valley and aside from Hikari Village, the closest mass of people was the settlement they were heading towards now. Opal’s mission directive today was only to scout, thus, she wouldn’t be entering the town Syfa invited her too.
After an hour, they reached the 39-mile marker and Opal stopped them to sent up the last relay in the cover of the forest. A few more miles and they’d leave the forest. Just as before, the top of the tree fell to the undergrowth below and up went the relay-node in its place.
[RELAY NODE 4 activated — Be advised – 6 miles away from…]
Opal turned her attention from the notification. She knew this and the HUD notifications were just obnoxious at this point. The update delay came a complete 2.5 seconds after she knew it was activated. Per protocol, the information went through the relays and into Opal before it shot back out to update all the drones. Therefore, she was already aware of it before it came up.
Annoyances aside, Opal began to settle the IFV into position. The thicket around them was thick and lush. Hiding the IFV wasn’t an issue once the behemoth lowered itself as far as it could go. With the help of SD-1, Opal was hidden from the pathway as the spider-drone rearranged the bushes. The poor vegetation had been cut at the roots and dragged into place around Opal. All in all, it looked rather… Unnatural, but only if you approached it.
And noticed the sharp back of the IFV with a large 20mm turret jutting out.
But it was fine. Definitely.
“You sure you don’t want to go in?” Syfa said as she reprised her laughter. “I invited you to go to town with me. Not gonna lie, I wanted to show you off as my new friend.”
“Negative,” Opal answered. “I am only to scout out the area beforehand. Undue arrival of military vehicles may upset the locals.”
“I’m a local too,” Syfa’s left eyebrow rose.
“Doesn’t matter,” Opal said. “Continue with your task. I will be waiting for you here. Please use this if you encounter any issues.” SD-1 crawled out from his newly created bush cave and handed Syfa a black datapad. The vixen looked at it, confused and terribly intrigued by it.
“What’s this?” Syfa asked. “It’s pretty. Is it made from polished dragon glass?” She turned it over in awe and accidentally clicked the power button. The screen lit up and she gasped in awe. On the screen, a notification displayed “TRACKING IN PROGRESS”. Below it, a large red notification was displayed. “PANIC BUTTON”.
“Press the red button should you feel your life is in danger,” Opal said. “As your overwatch, I will be on standby should you encounter any threats.” The AI knew that Syfa couldn’t read English, and that was fine. Opal walked her through on its operation. What Opal didn’t tell her was that this was a gift to her… For being her first friend… Dr. Vizimer once said that friends should be rewarded and enemies should be destroyed.
However, Opal wondered how much being intoxicated inspired this memorable V-Log.
The world shook slightly as Opal looked down over Wilfred’s Holdfast. Everything was different shades of black and white as the thermal imaging finally found its target; Syfa and her wagon. Haiafe was no longer sprawled on the cargo but holding his bow as if he was waiting for trouble. The townsfolk were quick to part around the lizard that pulled them. However, they threw gestures at them and every guard they passed faced them with their hands on their hilts.
What Syfa didn’t know – because Opal didn’t mention – was that the Comanche had taken to the air after they’d activated the first relay point. Safe high in the sky, it’d been their overwatch the entire time. While its stealth coating was marred, it still possessed a full loadout of hellfire missiles and its rotary cannon. It wasn’t that the AI didn’t trust Syfa exclusively, but she distrusted all of them.
It was because Syfa had been good to Opal the entire trip did she spare her that datapad. It allowed the shaman to alert her of trouble. With that, it also allowed the AI to track her through the town to watch out for anything she could fend off.
[56 small buildings, 6 medium buildings, and 2 large structures detected.]
Opal was aware. Because she’d counted them already and adjusted the hellfire’s approach solutions accordingly. The rotary cannon’s reticle slid along the streets below, trained on Syfa as she stopped before one of the buildings near the entrance. Opal began to ping hostiles as a crowd of seven fighting age males was forming in the distance.
None of them blocked the fox people and their wagon, but they appeared to be agitated by their presence. Which was bad, because if Opal could read that through the thermal vision, it must have been worse below. Opal sent elevated the situation to CAUTION without pinging Syfa’s pad. Yellow diamonds appeared over the possible combatants as they elbowed each other. They leaned close to each other while pointing to the wagon.
Haiafe appeared to have noticed as well and kept his bow low and notched. Syfa disappeared into the building empty-handed. A few minutes later, she reappeared with a larger man following close behind. They opened a few crates before they shook hands. Then, Syfa began to unload the wagon with ease while Haiafe kept a lookout as the group of men loitered nearby.
[*BEEP* Hellfire missiles unlocked. Target locked.]
Opal was ready to fire on a moment’s notice when Syfa had taken in the last crate of goods. A few minutes later, several men followed the woman out of the building carrying sacks and crates. They loaded it up quicker than it’d taken to unload. 20 minutes later, the wagon was filled up and Syfa waved off the first man again. The wagon turned around there and made its way towards the north-western entrance again.
They moved much faster this time and both the siblings kept looking over their shoulders. The group of men moved intently after they, keeping a good 50ft buffer between them and the wagon. 5 minutes later, they departed from the city. The group of men still on their trail. However, this time, more men were beginning to join them and on horseback.