Anya circled the locations laid out on her map and pinged the whole time. It took her an hour to successfully cover most of Boston and the surrounding area, but there was no sign of hosts or aliens. Worcester was no different. If the hosts had been there, they had either been killed or moved on to somewhere else.

Anya spent the rest of the afternoon flying around all of New England, and only stopped to let the pangolin out to stretch his tiny legs, dig randomly in the dirt, poop, and hunt for ants. His shy, yellow AI followed him around and squeaked or whispered to him occasionally, but did nothing else.

During these breaks, Anya browsed her menu and searched for other skills she could put her remaining points into. She had a number of ideas, but wasn’t sure about any of them. She also thought about what to name the pangolin, since she felt rude calling a sapient creature (even one that had only been sapient for a few hours) solely by its species.

“Name?” the pangolin asked her during one of their breaks while it scratched at the ground.

“Yeah. Like my name is Anya and this is Felix,” she gestured at the orange AI floating over her head.

“Anya. Felix,” the pangolin said as it scratched in the dirt. “My name…pangolin?”

“That’s your species.” Anya said. “My species is human, Felix is an AI, like your yellow one there.”

“Bright friend,” the pangolin said and nodded at his yellow AI.

“Sure,” Anya agreed. “But you should pick a name. You’d be the first pangolin ever to name themselves.”
“First,” the pangolin said. “Pangolin. Pan. First. Pan. Pan!”

“You want the first sound of ‘pangolin’ to be your name?” Anya asked. It made sense. The creature didn’t know what a syllable was exactly, but it understood the idea of word sounds, at least.

“Pan! Pan the first,” the pangolin, Pan, said and pointed at his leathery chest with its foreclaws. “Pan!”

“Then Pan it is,” Anya said and knelt as she extended her hand to Pan. “Good name, Pan.”

Pan licked her hand, then bumped it with his head and resumed his digging.

“Well, one problem solved,” Anya said and sat on the hood of the V-187 as she studied her menu. She had parked in the middle of an empty baseball field near an equally empty park just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. There had been three host signals and one alien signal to inspect near Detroit. It had resulted in nothing, again. However, a quick sweep of news articles revealed that there had been an explosion at an abandoned factory on Monday night that had resulted in the deaths of two people. Anya was certain those two had been hosts, but that left a third somewhere, and possibly the alien.

They could have fled to just outside the city, or another part of the state, or China. She couldn’t spend all her time zig-zagging across every single state hoping to get lucky. But so far, all of the places the hosts had been had been empty. No aliens, either, and that really worried her.

The news had been full of crazy stories over the last 48 hours too. Nuclear strikes outside Russia, multiple public massacres in at least a dozen countries, riots, and sightings of things that she would have dismissed as jokes or hoaxes just last Friday.

She would try one more location before she changed her search method: Chicago. It had five relatively tight host signatures around it and two alien lifesigns. If she couldn’t find anyone or anything there, she would take her plan to find more hosts back to the drawing board.

Anya texted Tori that she was doing fine, but no signs of other hosts. She thought that she should get a burner phone, or some special communication device from the RAC store. She berated herself for not thinking of it sooner, but she had a million things rushing through her mind since the attack: the pangolin, Ramierez, her class, her spare points, finding other hosts, all of it. She couldn’t think of everything. Tori would be okay for the immediate future. For now, she needed to check out Chicago and go from there.

“Hey Pan, you all done?” she asked.

“Yes. No ants,” he replied with a dejected slump of his shoulders. He waddled to the pitcher’s mound where Anya and the V-187 waited and then climbed inside. Anya strapped herself back into the pilot’s seat and set the HUD in the windshield to display Chicago as a waypoint.

“Why?” Pan asked behind her as she flew away from Ann Arbor.

“Why what?” Anya asked.

“Why go…” the pangolin paused as it thought. “Go different place many and quick?”

“We’re going to so many different places because we’re looking for…friends,” Anya said. She wasn’t sure if Pan would understand anything more complicated than that. “And we’re looking quickly because uh, bad guys are looking for us.”

“Bad?” Pan asked and his voice rose in mild panic. Anya heard the now familiar clicking rustle as the pangolin curled himself into a ball. She then realized that Pan’s AI didn’t know to shut off the signal the menu systems sent out. Another detail that had slipped past her, and one that could have been fatal if they hadn’t been moving around all day.

“We’re okay now,” Anya reassured him, “but it means we can’t stop anywhere for too long, or there might be problems. Also, tell your bright friend to turn off your signal.”


“It’s like uh…a smell that bad guys can follow to get you.”

Pan whispered something to his AI, it whispered back, and then nodded.

“Think board sends out bad guy smells?” Pan asked as he brought up his menu and pointed at it.

“Yes, it can, and that’s one of the problems we have to watch out for, so keep you menu——think board——smells off okay?”

“Problems,” Pan repeated, and let out a low squeaky groan of concern. “Off now.”

“Hey, it’s gonna be okay. I’m not gonna let anything happen to the world’s first super intelligent pangolin.”

Pan uncurled himself and poked his snout around the side of Anya’s chair. “Thank you,” he said. Anya gave him a pat on the head and the pangolin pressed his head back against her palm before retreating to the back seat.

Anya didn’t hold her breath for anything as she circled the V-187 around the fringes of Chicago. Every other major city she’d flown through had been empty of hosts and aliens, and she wasn’t expecting the Windy City to be any different.

Her phone buzzed in her jacket pocket and Anya started in her seat. She took it out and the screen displayed “Unknown Number.” Normally she would have just ignored the call, but after letting Ramierez go just hours before, she suspected she knew who it might be.

“Hello?” Anya answered after clearing her throat, which was suddenly quite dry.

“Am I speaking to Miss Anya Nowicki?” A man with a thick New York accent asked in a casual tone.

“You are. Who’s this?”

“I’m Special Agent Christian Riley with the FBI. I’ve just had a very, very strange and enlightening conversation with an Officer Ramierez, who I believe is a mutual acquaintance?” Agent Riley introduced himself with the same casual tone, smooth and even, as if he were just talking about the weather and not identifying himself as a federal agent.

“Yeah, we spoke this morning. And a little last night.”

“Would this have been last night in Prospect Park some time between 11:30 and midnight?” Riley asked and Anya heard the shuffling of papers in the background.

“Yeah. Right after I killed an alien.”

“Uh-huh,” Riley said and Anya heard tension in those two syllables. “Would you be willing to come in and talk to me about that? Officer Ramierez and several people who were outside earlier today can confirm you know exactly where our building is.”

“Maybe,” Anya said.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist Ms. Nowicki,” Riley said. The casual tone in his voice dropped a few notches and there was something harder underneath.

“Do you believe him?” Anya asked. “Ramierez, I mean. He showed you the video?”

“He showed me something. I have a lot of questions about it, and what the cameras outside captured when you dropped the good officer off. I admit that I find myself a bit, ah, flummoxed. That’s not a word I use very often. In fact I think this is the first time in my life. Very unique circumstances we have here, at the very least.”

“No shit,” Anya said.

“Ms. Nowicki, I believe in honesty. Officer Ramierez does not strike me as a liar or a man given to wild notions. I need more time to look over your record, but what I’ve seen so far does not paint a picture of somebody who is a criminal. For now, all I have are questions. It would be very smart of you, and good for you, to come in and answer them with me.”

“I——” Anya said, and then her ear beeped. She was over the Navy Pier and up along Lakeshore Drive when it happened.

“Felix?” Anya asked as she felt both of her hearts start to beat faster.

“Two hosts,” Felix said, “and one alien.”

“Holy shit,” Anya breathed.

“Ms. Nowicki?” Agent Riley asked.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I-I’ll come in. Not now. Tomorrow.”

“I’m not in the habit of having my schedule dictated to me by anybody but my boss, Ms. Nowicki.”

“And I’m not in the habit of anything that has happened since Friday night. You like honesty? Good, me too. I just found something like the thing that killed the people in Prospect Park last night, and I plan on stopping it. If I survive, I will call you and we can work something out.”

“Let’s say I believe you. Let’s say you’re going to fight an alien. Where would this be? It sounds like we both want to stop any needless violence like what happened in the park. This would be a pretty great opportunity for you to demonstrate that Ms. Nowicki, let the professionals handle things.”

“The professionals got slaughtered last night,” Anya said.

“Due respect to the NYPD, I wasn’t talking about a handful of patrol officers.”

Anya paused. If Riley actually wanted to help, he might be able to do a lot. He could make calls and have areas evacuated, keep civilians at bay, call in some special ops guys or something.

But there were hosts down there too.

If it was just the alien, trusting Riley would probably be the best. But the two hosts were an unknown. They could be nice, they could be psychos, they could be something else entirely, like a pair of pigeons. They could be nice until they found out she’d called the government on them, and then they might get mean. Just because she felt the need to go to the authorities didn’t mean any other hosts did.

Anya needed to be sure.

“That sounds like it could work,” Anya said into her phone. “But I need to check on something first.”

“And what might that be?” Riley asked, a note of impatience creeping into his voice. Anya wondered if she should tell him the reason for her delay or not, and decided if honesty was what Riley liked, he would get all the honesty he could handle.

“There’s people down there, like me. And the pangolin,” Anya said.

“Menu hosts, was it?” Riley asked and there was more rustling papers from his end of the line.

“You got it. And before you go calling the National Guard or the Army, I would like to make sure the people down there aren’t going to go crazy if they see men in uniform or anything like that. I’ll call you back after I make sure.”

“Ms. Nowicki——”

“Just an hour. Or less,” Anya said and hung up. Riley was probably tracking her call, or trying to. She didn’t know how long that sort of thing took, or how accurate it was with cell phones. She wondered if using the phone in the V-187 affected that kind of thing and put that thought away with a million other she had acquired since Friday.

“Bright friend says more friends and bad guy,” Pan said behind her, bringing her out of her reverie.

“Okay, yeah, cool,” Anya said as she brought up her map. “Oh my god, it’s right in the middle of the city. But it’s not doing anything?”

“The alien and hosts are stationary,” Felix replied. “They’re a few hundred yards apart or so.”

Anya’s map showed the alien’s red dot, not a general area but a precise dot, centered on a building labeled the Water Tower Place. The other two dots of the hosts changed from vague orange circles to cerulean and gray motes of light. The cerulean and gray dots were right next to each other, down the street from the hateful red dot. As Felix said, none of the dots were moving.

“Are they unconscious or something?” Anya muttered. She glanced out her window and tried to find a place to park. She finally settled on the rooftop of a tall hotel that she saw had a single door on one side for maintenance access. The hotel was a little farther away from the alien than the two hosts, putting them between her and it.

“Can I message them? Like Carl messaged me?” Anya asked.

“Of course! Just bring up your messaging menu and select the host or hosts you want to message. Once you message them and they accept it, or they message you and you accept, I’ll have their signals on record and distance will no longer be an issue!”

“Yeah but that means they’ll have mine too, so let’s hope they’re nice,” Anya said. She brought up her message menu and saw three colored dots on the side: green, blue, and gray. The green dot was labeled “CARL” and had part of a sentence that had been Carl’s only message to her. She frowned when she saw it, but pushed thoughts of the young man aside. The blue and gray dot were only labeled with “?”

She tapped the blue dot and options for text, video, or sound only appeared. She decided to keep it simple for now and follow basic texting etiquette. You couldn’t just call or video chat somebody out of the blue. That was crazy.

A standard alpha-numeric keyboard appeared when Anya selected the text option.

“Here’s hoping they’re not crazy. Or pigeons,” Anya said.

“Crazy,” Pan repeated behind her.

Anya stared at her screen for several long seconds, gulped, and then texted the other hosts.

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