The Dragonfly sets down outside the city of Cairo itself. The dig site that was here a decade ago was collapsed by dynamite set off by Jason’s father, and whatever was down there hasn’t been brought to light since then. Jason is confident of that much. If it had, the world would know.
He exits the craft and sees a tent. As the hatch of the Dragonfly closes again, Alycia emerges.
“Thank you for coming, Jason.”
He smiles. “You didn’t say where to meet. I assumed it’d be the place we met before. Which is here.”
“Quite so.” Alycia looks down at the sands. “That was a long time ago. I’m glad you remembered.”
“I remember a lot of things.” Jason’s eyes stray to the landscape as well, but Alycia is never out of his field of vision.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I ran off, and why I haven’t been in touch.”
Alycia shrugs a little. “More cloak-and-dagger work. My family is involved.”
“I gathered as much.” Jason’s smile is still pasted on his face, but his eyes come back to the girl before him. “So what changed?”
Alycia sighs. “I ran into a wall. I was this close to something I needed, and now… Well, that’s my fault.” She turns back to look at Jason, features soft and mouth turned up in a smile Jason has only imagined her making, never really seen. “I need access to data in your system to continue the hunt. Data that’s locked behind Byron Quill’s access codes.”
Jason nods along. “Of course.”
Alycia gestures back at the tent. “I’ve got a laptop ready to go. We can relay through the Dragonfly–”
Jason is already turning back to the craft. “I give your imitation a B+ for effort, but don’t bother trying it on me again.”
A shot rings out, from a hidden sniper’s position, but the bullet caves on impact with Jason’s nanobots - already primed and ready, covering every inch of him. Even his face is coated in a transparent layer.
But the bullet wasn’t aimed at his head. It went for a leg shot - meant to disable him, make him bleed out, make him vulnerable, but not kill him. This tells him most of what he still wanted to know. How far would this imitation go?
He turns to see the Mirror Alycia drawing a gun of her own, considerably more potent than a modern military rifle, and probably armed with hyper-tech ammo. “How did you make me?” she asks, voice now flat, face now expressionless.
“And give you vital intel on how to improve the facsimile?” Jason snorts in amusement. “Try harder.”
The Mirror responds by leveling the weapon at him. Jason, already in tune with his nanobots and in sync with their trajectory-tracking system, is out of the line of fire, and ducks and weaves to stay that way as she tries to get a bead on him.
She aims, he jinks, and a round goes off. He hears an explosion behind him - the round hit the Dragonfly itself. The craft is hurt, but serviceable. This one isn’t playing around.
Before she can order the sniper back into play, Jason digs spare nanobots into the sand around him, then commands them to launch upward. The resulting cloud of sand obscures line of sight, and he sprints for the Dragonfly in the moment he’s bought himself.
The hatch opens at a mental command and he dives through.
“Dragonfly! Autopilot - suborbital - random destination!” he barks, and the craft’s computer complies.
He turns, and finds the Mirror already hanging onto the hatch from outside. Somehow she closed the much greater distance in the same time. Physically superhuman. Important detail.
She’s still got the gun. Another important detail. But she can’t aim it while the craft is lifting off, and she needs at least one hand to hang onto the hatch. Jason grabs hold of the control yoke and drags, sending the Dragonfly into a crazy spiral. The engines whine, and the attitude thrusters scream a full-throated song of chaos as they try to obey the senseless commands their pilot is giving them. But it works - the copy Alycia isn’t able to go for her gun.
Jason, knowing his own tactics, uses his nanobots to create tendrils that hold him balanced like a gyroscope at the center of the chaotic craft. As the Mirror finally stabilizes herself in the hatch enough to draw a bead on him again, his boot lashes out and sends the gun out into the waiting sky.
She grabs hold of one of the nanobot tendrils, and Jason notes with alarm that her fingers - then hand - then arm - dissolve into nanobots as well. Did I–? he fears, for a brief microsecond.
No - it’s worse. She’s nanobots. She’s all nanobot!
Damn you, father. Damn this technology you made.
By volume, there’s enough nanotech here to overwhelm his own, strip him of his own power to resist, infiltrate his mind, break the seal of his memory, extract what it wants. Control over the Quill computer network?
Jason never wanted to do this. But he’s grimly grateful for all the preparations he made for his eventual fate.
“Dragonfly! Full broadcast - all nodes, all stations. Sewer Lizard Protocol.”
The computer’s voice responds. “Sewer Lizard Protocol acknowledged.”