A Fair Cop

Medway started the day in high spirits. Her evening with Tarbuck’s family had presented moments of stress, but overall it had been exactly what she’d needed. Personal uncertainties had been given a new context, difficult choices for the future looked easier.

"Ready?" Sergeant Porson greeted her. "Your vehicle is as good as it’s going to get."

"Lead me to my chariot."

"A whole new Medway. Bright. Cheerful, almost courteous. Must have been a good night last night."

"Sorted a few things out, Sarge. Turned out to be... perfect."

Porson nodded. "Do I still need to forward the requisition for your new armour?" Medway stopped dead in her tracks. Porson shrugged, "So tell me I’m wrong."

"Not entirely decided, Sarge. Put it on hold."

"Different outlook on the world, Detective Medway?"

She shook her head. "Like I said, not entirely decided."

"No problem, you’re now on temporary assignment to the investigation team. Super decided last night." He gestured towards the motor pool. "Time to go."

She paused as the doors opened on the quiet of the small-arms bay. "I still haven’t figured it out, Sarge. Are you a really great guy, or a complete bastard?"

"That sums it up." Porson was not entirely joking. "Comes with the job. A good sergeant needs to be both – at the same time. Now, if I was a betting man, I would lay money that you never go back to the suit. You'll stay as a detective.” He walked on. “I can see you as a sergeant soon enough, if you watch your mouth a bit."

Medway ignored that and broached the other subject which had been troubling her. "Ever hear of a cybercop resigning?"

"It happens. Not often. Not easily. Not for Enhanced Officers. Rarely with all limbs still working. They usually can’t cope outside the service. We do what we do because of who we are, and this is where we belong."

"Kyla managed."

"Had no choice, Medway. Too much of a wreck to stay in the job. Medical retirements like that generally do better." He patted an artificial thigh. "You learn to cope. You have to. Learning to live with the damage teaches you how to live outside the only job you knew. Or makes you blow your brains out." He stopped beside an ordnance safe, decorated with multiple warnings. "There are plenty of places for you in the service, Medway. Trust me. Civilian life will not suit you."

"The suit is all I know, Sarge. If I have to give it up, I might as well… I saw the way the others looked at me in the van yesterday."

"Do me a favour, Medway. Don’t make any decisions until you bring Elsworth back. See how you make out seconded to Investigation. It might not be for you – I think it will – but it will show you that there is a life in the service after the suit."

Medway grimaced. "Not a problem, Sarge. I want this Elsworth. I don’t know much about him, but I feel he’s at the heart of all this."

"You see? Gut instinct as well. Supposed to be very important for investigators. Come on. Time you were on the road."

They stepped into the noise of the motor pool. A steady stream of officers were taking vehicles out whilst other cars sat idle, either to be worked on or ready in case of sudden need. The heavy armoured vehicles, the water cannon and a pair of Bulldogs were lined up against one wall – the more extreme end and rarely needed in peaceful Oxfordshire, but showing recent scuffs and mud-streaks.

Battered and forlorn, Lameduck was parked between two other cars. The bodywork was a mess, although the doors were almost pristine. It was only when Medway was close enough that she saw the crest on the doors read Oxfordshire, not London.

"Stroke of luck, really," Porson told her. "Had a pursuit go wrong last month. These Peacekeepers are built to last, but things do go wrong. They reckon a turbine blade snapped. Bad blade, maintenance fuck-up – who knows? The officer driving it was very lucky – all the automatic systems operated perfectly. I’ve seen the evidence logs – it looked hilarious at first glance. Air bags and emergency restraints all over the place – they gave just enough padding that when half the engine blasted back through the car he survived it. Totally fucked his armour. Broke his arm."

Medway stared and made the connection. "The doors survived."

"Almost perfect," Porson sighed. "Without those, it would have been scrap heap time for Lameduck. The chassis is Lameduck. The rest has been cobbled together."

Medway walked around the vehicle. The armour was scoured, particularly front and back where the worst of the piercing rounds had been used. In daylight, the car looked more of a mess than she remembered.

"It'll do."

Porson handed her a package of infocards. "Drive carefully. Sets of travel orders in accordance with the state of emergency. It should be enough to get you through all police checkpoints. There is a detailed report and a request for assistance for the attention of the Commissioner, to get access to Coriolis once you reach Yorkshire. There are a couple of similar documents with a sort of ‘To whom it may concern’, but only releasable by the local Commissioner or deputy."

"Should I be expecting trouble?"

Porson sent the change of status to Lameduck so that Medway could open the door. It only went half way. "Expect trouble at every step of the way," he told her seriously and then grinned. "Sorry about the door. You know what techs are like."

Medway pushed it the rest of the way. "S’all right. Makes it feel more familiar."

"Probably only take ten minutes to put right."

"Let it stay," she decided. "No one will forget Medway and Lameduck in a hurry."

Porson snorted. "You don’t need a crap car to make yourself memorable. Trust me on that." He put out his hand. "Good luck. Drop by again sometime."

Medway shook his hand. "I’ll do that. I already promised someone else a return visit."

"Just bring your own clothes next time. We might have managed to transfer Psycho-Steel by then. The woman needs to swap some eagerness for experience."

Medway got in and shut the door. <Medway: traffic control status?>

<Lameduck: Not available. Manual drive mandatory.>

She backed the car carefully out of the slot and drove away. Traffic control might still be down, but at least Lameduck could auto-navigate. Every accessible GPS source had been locked out but, with the occasional piece of information such as road names, the car managed to work out where it was and devise a route.

Getting out of Oxford was relatively straightforward – there was only light traffic that early in the morning. The M43 tunnels would have been the most direct route – back down the M40 and turn north – but the best guess at Oxford was that the tunnels would be blocked by cars which had crashed when traffic management went down. The only viable alternative was to stick to the minor roads and pass through every town. If things were normal, the journey might take five or six hours. Under the present circumstances, at least twice that.

She drove to Banbury – a relatively easy run. There was no sign of anything untoward, but Medway stopped at the first police vehicle she saw. There was no sign of anyone in the car.

<Lameduck: Police vehicle is designated Brass Monkey. Active duty.>

<Medway: Where’s the driver?>

<Lameduck: Unknown. Standard patrol duties.>

A quick blast on Lameduck’s siren would get attention, but everything was so quiet. If the officer using Brass Monkey was actually doing something delicate the noise might totally screw things. Medway got out and caught the smell of food. There was a side road a short distance ahead and round the corner a prosperous café and burger bar.

There was an ordinary copper leaning against the counter, burger and fries in his hand, chatting to one of the staff. Medway walked in and stood behind him.

"Morning, officer." <Query ident.>

He turned without spilling his coffee. "Who the fuck are you?" He ran a hasty ident check of his own. "You’re a bit off your own turf, Officer Medway."

“I know.” Don’t sneak up behind people – that’s what sergeants do... "And headed even further. I just wanted to check in with the local officers as I passed through. It helps save misunderstandings."

His eyes narrowed. "Where’s your suit?"

"Temporary assignment to an investigation unit. Now, can you help, Officer Barlow? The local net is useless."

Barlow gathered up his take-away. "See ya later," he told the girl behind the counter. "Follow me, Medway. We have a limited net running but I need the power from the transmitters in Brass Monkey to get through."

"Interesting name for a car…"

"Air-con keeps freaking out." Techs and their sense of humour... She followed him back round the corner. "What the fuck?" He got his first sight of her wreck. "Shit, what do you call yours?"

"Lameduck. You think that looks bad – you should see what’s left of my armour."

"Shit." There was a flurry of comms between Barlow and Brass Monkey. "You need authorisation, Medway."

"Try this." She handed him an infocard. "Travel orders… and stuff."

He scanned the card and there was another outburst of comms traffic. "Got a route for you," he said and sent the information. "Control says the road to Daventry is your best bet. Still some wreckage, but the road is passable."

"Thanks." She grinned suddenly. "Eat your burger before it goes cold."

She fed the route into Lameduck and worked her way through Banbury. The journey to Daventry was slow but largely uneventful. Most of the delay was due to the volume of traffic using the road and uncleared crashes limiting the width. By mid-afternoon she reached the outskirts of the town, sitting in packed traffic for over an hour to reach a police checkpoint.

The officers on duty were mostly ordinary coppers, with a trio of cybercops lurking in the background in case of trouble. Lameduck was abruptly interrogated and returned its ident, along with Medway’s. Immediately the cybercops moved forwards, one leading, two holding back with hands close to their weapons. Very cautiously, Medway pulled over and stepped out. It was one of those moments when having to kick the door the rest of the way lacked its humorous element. She got out one of her travel authorities, holding it with her finger tips.

"Officer Medway?"

"Yes." She ran an ident exchange. "I take it things are a bit wild here, Officer Barnes." She stepped well away from the car and offered the card. "This should help..."

There was a brief round of comms activity between the three cybercops before they relaxed. "Temporary attachment as detective?" There was the sneer.

She waved at Lameduck. "In the end, the car came out better than the armour."

Barnes grunted. "The doors don’t match."

"Best they could find. Couple of Bulldogs tried to shoot the crap out of me."

Another brief electronic conference. "OK, Medway. Don’t understand what this is about, but you check out. North of here things are totally screwed. Your best bet is to head east into Northampton." <Barnes: File transfer // access idents//> "We have a limited local net going. You’ll find dead spots and there are delays. We have officers strung out from Coventry to Northampton acting as relays. The road is reasonably clear. Northampton itself is a mess at the moment but you should be able to get through. If you’re lucky you should reach Market Harborough before midnight."

Medway retrieved her infocard. "Thanks."

"No problem. Drive carefully – doesn’t look like Lameduck can handle much more."

She smiled politely. Three against one and they were wearing armour – it wasn’t worth it.

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