In Part Two, Mercury made contact with a human while traversing the Atlas Mountains Ice Sheet. After reaching the specified coordinates, he scaled down the face of the glacier to ground level.
Looking up, I saw the Atlas Mountains embedded in the crystal clear ice sheet. Reflected sunlight bounced off the ragged edges of the face and the rugged, ice–encased mountains seemed to expand and contract as passing clouds obscured the sun and cast shadows on the glacier wall.
Under my feet, exactly two thousand meters below the ground, lay the carcass of an animal. The animal was a hybrid species developed by a group of genetic engineers shortly before the collapse of civilization. The animal had escaped from the laboratory where it had been created only to be immediately eaten by starving survivors of the holocaust.
Excavating the remains of the hybrid animal—a mammoth pieced together with enhanced elephant parts—was the next goal in the second assignment.
I turned away from the wall and looked out over a vast grassland stretching southward as far as my unaided vision could see. Once the Sahara Desert, radical climate changes had transformed this region of Africa from an arid wasteland to the fertile plain it was now.
I consulted the mainframe: Robur, I transmitted.
I need your input on the next step in the assignment?
Uploading requested data stream.
As I downloaded the specified data, it became apparent that I needed to travel to the nearest corporate complex and arrange to have some drilling equipment delivered to the site.
As I started across the plain, Robur uploaded a firmware update to my Operating System. The update initiated a clothing patch. Boots formed around my toes, then continued up over may ankles and terminated at my knees. A long–sleeve shirt materialized around my torso. A pair of cargo type pants appeared at my waist. Large pockets on the rear and sides of the pants formed as the coarse material wove down my legs to my ankles.
Gradually, the perma–frost ground gave way to scattered prairies of short grass. The grass became thicker and taller as I journeyed south. Soon I was running through chest–deep fields of grass.
Clustered hammocks of the scrubby Acacia karroo tree began to appear—deep, red fissures running through the brown bark.
While stopping in one these hammocks to ingest some coolant from a natural spring, I saw a herd of wildebeests run out of the grass, a female lion in pursuit. She cut a young wildebeest out of the herd, jumped on its back and bit through its skull with a crunching sound. The animal was dead before it hit the ground.
The lioness looked around. Her her pupils expanded when she saw me. I had no scent. I might have been a tree. She pulled the wildebeest by the scruff of the neck into the high grass just as the vultures began circling overhead.
The further south I ran, the more wildlife I saw:
The Caracal, smallest of the big cats, jumped through the air, catching birds in flight. The Serval, with its elongated body and neck, resembled a smaller version of the Cheetah. The Cheetah, the fastest land animal on the planet. The Leopard, heavily muscled with spotted fur, clung to tree limbs, waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey. The Lion, the only big cat to form groups of mates and young.
Great herds of ungulates roamed the plains:
Fast running wildebeests trampled the tall grass, forming wide pathways. Herds of gazelles, impalas, and antelopes traversed the pathways. Zebras moved across the plain, undulating in a sea of black and white patterns. Long–necked giraffes chewed leaves from high branches.
I continued running all night, stopping only to refresh my coolant system. At dawn I saw the buildings of the Jethro corporation complex appear like a mirage on the horizon.
An hour passed and I saw an object. My data bank informed me that it was a grav–car: a two passenger vehicle used primarily by the Jethro Corporation Security team. It used electro–magnetic force to elevate it off the ground. A small jet engine provided propulsion.
I remained motionless, scanning the vehicle computer systems and recording its specifications. The car was powered by an advanced nuclear battery: a single–cell component about the size of an ostrich egg. The vehicle wasn’t equipped with any onboard weapons; however, the occupants were armed with laser carbines and pulse pistols.
The car’s sensors indicated my hacking procedure and alerted the two security officers. The car turned toward me then sped in my direction.
The car came within twenty meters of where I stood, came to a halt, hovered for a few seconds, then slowly dropped to less than half a meter above the ground.
The gull–wing doors swung open and the security guards stepped out.
One of the guards, a tall black man with a shaven head, stepped forward and asked, “May I see your IM?” He held a small scanner in his left hand.
The IM he referred to was the Identity Mark digitally scribed on the forearm of every Jethro employee. He must have assumed I was an engineer on an assignment.
“I have no marks,” I replied. He took two steps back and drew his pistol. I broke his wrist as he brought the pistol out of the holster with one hand then snapped his neck with the other hand. As the guard’s lifeless body slumped to the ground, I fired a round through the second guard’s forehead, burning a pinhole into his skull and blowing a bloody chunk of tissue and bone off the back of his head.
After collecting the dead guards’ handguns, I buckled both belts around my waist, then slid the pistols in the holsters. I looked like a gunfighter from a twentieth century western film.
The rear of the car held a compartment. I removed a length of flex rope, whipped the strand forward with a flick of the wrist, extending it out three meters. After lashing the corpses of the guards to the hood of the grav–car, I drove to the complex.
When I reached the outer perimeter of the compound a squadron of armed troopers stood waiting. The commander spoke into a small lavaliere microphone attached to his collar: “Stop the vehicle and step out,” he ordered.
I set the brakes, switched off the turbine, opened the driver’s side door and stepped out of the car.