Windsor State Forest, Massachusetts
The soldiers' armor made an odd hissing noise. But besides the slight sound of metal plates sliding smoothly, flawlessly over one another, the troop was unnaturally quiet as it moved through the woods, getting closer to the prey.
The faintest of beeps caused the team leader to glance down at his wrist screen. Large red letters scrolled across it: ATTACK IN 12 SECONDS ... 11 ... 10 ...
The team leader tapped a button, and the screen's image changed: a tall, thin girl with dirt smears on her face and a tangle of brown hair, glaring out at him. TARGET 1 was superimposed on her face.
... 9 ... 8 ...
His wrist screen beeped again, and the image changed to that of a dark-haired, dark-eyed, scowling boy. TARGET 2.
And so on, the image changing every half second, ending finally with a portrait of a small, scruffy black dog looking at the camera in surprise.
The team leader didn't understand why Target 7 was an animal. He didn't need to understand. All he needed to know was that these targets were slated for capture.
... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
The leader emitted a whistle pitched so high that only his team members could hear it. He motioned toward the small run-down cabin they had surrounded in the woods.
Synchronized perfectly, as only machines can be, the eight team members shouldered eight portable rocket launchers and aimed them straight at the cabin. With a whoosh, eight large nets made of woven Kevlar strands shot out from the cannons and unfolded with geometric precision in midair, encasing the cabin almost entirely.
The team leader smiled in triumph.
"THE PREY HAVE BEEN CAPTURED, SIR," the team leader said in a monotone. Pride was not tolerated in this organization.
"Why do you say that?" the Uber-Director asked in a silky tone.
"The cabin has been secured."
"No. Not quite," said the Uber-Director, who was little more than a human head attached by means of an artificial spinal column to a series of Plexiglas boxes. The bioengine that controlled the airflow over his vocal cords allowed him to sigh, and he did. "The chimney. The skylight."
The team leader frowned. "The chimney would be impossible to climb," he said, accessing his internal encyclopedia. Photographs of the prey scrolled quickly across the team leader's screen. Suddenly an important detail caught his attention, and he froze.
In the corner of one of the photographs, a large feathered wing was visible. The team leader tracked it, zooming in on just that section of the image. The wing appeared to be attached to the prey.
The prey could fly.
He had left routes of escape open.
He had failed!
The Uber-Director closed his eyes, sending a thought signal to the nanoprocessors implanted in his brain. He opened his eyes in time to see the team leader and his troop vaporize with a crackling, sparking fizzle. All that was left of them was a nose-wrinkling odor of charred flesh and machine oil.