Guarded is today’s #writephoto prompt, with the photo below, and I’m pleased to say it is a 2021 one! Sue Vincent is providing prompts as long as she can, so it has spurred me on through a little non-writing spell.
You’ll remember that I did Entrance a couple of weeks back, and most of you wanted to know what happened to Serena. Here’s an answer, sort of. It’s just under 1000 words.
Caroline Sarah Carruthers had absolutely no interest in her (great) grandfather’s historical adventuring. Her sister, Serena, might traipse all over the world, tracing his footsteps as she called it, but Caroline considered that a waste of time and carbon footprint.
Her interests lay in tech solutions. Serena’s adventures gave her plenty of interesting innovation opportunities.
While Serena was away, Caroline monitored her, guarded her. Other times, she tinkered with various gadgets, read up on the latest snooping tools, and networked with like-minded people.
These people often come in handy if, like now, Serena has gone missing in wild country, and Caroline’s normal tracking devices aren’t picking up.
One of these days she’d work out how to track Serena remotely through several hundred feet of rock. For now, she had to get her dense-material tracker closer to the source.
She frowned as she checked the route again. Her terrain display showed Serena making her tortuous way up a grassy hill, pausing at a rockface, and then disappearing. By the way the signal faded, she must have gone inside a cave, or under a rock ledge. And since it was now four hours since the last signal, Caroline felt a stirring of… impatience.
It would take at least two hours for her bullet flyer to get to the moor’s no-fly zone, then another few minutes to despatch the tactical drone it carried. That had stealth capability to hide from any observation satellites, and arrive unseen at Serena’s last location. But the drone was slow, and could take as much as thirty minutes to get to the place she had on vision.
Settle was the nearest town; it sounded familiar. Clicking her display again, she smiled. Bob was just the person! He would have a tactical drone: he lived within four miles of a no-fly zone. Now, if she could persuade him to let her upload some software to it…
Bob was in London. Beer festival at Alexandra Palace. She might have known he’d be a beery type. Went with the luxurious beard he sported, even in his avatars.
“I tell ye what,” he drawled. “I’ll get my mate Ted onto it. He’s at home. Couldn’t make it.”
“Unlucky for Ted, lucky for me,” Caroline said, and signed off, having secured the password controls for the drone and permission for the software upload—nothing exceptional, she assured Bob. His drone would be just the same to handle as before. Just better.
Ted was amiability itself. He suggested he go and let the drone out when he went to take his dog for a walk, in half an hour. Caroline rolled her eyes. At this rate, she should have just sent her bullet with its cargo.
“Oh, you mean right now?”
“Yes, my sister hasn’t come back off the moors. I need to check on her.”
“Ah, well, I could always call the MRT for you.”
“No need for Mountain Rescue yet, thanks. Just need to check she’s on the right route.”
“Ah. I’ll go now, then.”
She tracked Ted to Bob’s usual location, and sent the drone passwords. It was alive, waiting for release as Ted opened the barn door. She shook her head as she heard him talking to it, ‘letting it out for a run’. It’s not a dog, Ted.
Once in the clear, she sent the drone on course, and proceeded to upload the dense-material software. She debated setting a self-destruct, but instead wrapped it in several privacy layers to make sure Bob didn’t get into it. Well, she planted something interesting for him to make him feel he’d found it.
Away up on the moor, the drone flitted about like a demented dragonfly. There was no trace from the place Serena had disappeared into the rock.
She sent the drone round the hillside on a level contour path, watching it reach the western edge, turn south and hugged the contours some more as it veered toward the northeast.
She brought the drone back and got the signal again, then sent the drone on a pattern to find the maximum point. It hovered over a gigantic rock, sitting all alone surrounded by heather and bracken, a well-used rutted track running a few meters away, going north-south. A quick check showed her that it was seven point four kilometres in a straight line from the rockface where Serena’s signal disappeared.
She brought the drone lower, examining the rock, which loomed like stacked granite slabs, with cracks between them. Was Serena under this stack?
A few more measurements with other sensors suggested she was at least twenty feet below the surface, but moving slowly upwards. Maybe she was climbing. Ah, that looked like some sort of hole. Just in case it wasn’t the exit from whatever Serena had got into, she sent the drone to the top of a smaller rock on the other side of the path to wait it out.
Half an hour later, all the displays on Caroline’s tracking devices went off, and she saw movement on the drone’s camera.
“Are you okay?” Caroline asked.
Serena leapt into the air, turned on her feet in karate stance, and stood, visibly trembling even in the fading light.
“I’ve been tracking you, it’s Caroline. Are you okay?”
“I… noooooooo. Rats…., dragons….. Keep away. Never come back. Go. Go.”
“Serena, calm down. I’m with you. There’s a drone straight ahead.” She lifted it off the rock. “Can you see it. It’s a friend. Follow it to safety. I’ll direct you back to your hotel.”
Serena was barely able to shuffle along behind the drone. As the light faded, it shone a beam on the track to guide Serena as she stumbled along.
Caroline pre-ordered a soothing meal from room service, and told them she’d call when she was five minutes from the hotel. It was always the easiest way to deal with Serena’s post-Carruthers traumas.
She’d recover. Eventually.
© J M Pett 2021