Smoke, burnt flesh and localised blast damage – just another ordinary day in law enforcement. There were no leads on the death of Kyla Chamile and the job went on. Lianne Medway tackled a minor robbery in progress, which turned out to be a major screw-up with no time for backup, so she dealt with it as best she could. After that, there was nothing to do except wait for the mop-up squad and morgue crew, and use her implants to dictate the contact report, saving time later.

One raider was still alive, slumped against the wall of the warehouse, bloodied broken ribs sticking out of his chest – she put that at the top of the contact report, suspect awaiting formal arrest. The other four were scattered around, due to more forceful contact, and best left for the second paragraph, and someone with a shovel.

Her armour was charred where two microgrenades had hit her chest; the system was issuing maintenance warnings, but the outer layers had taken the hit and her sensor net had not even registered the impact. So some contact there, but that could be tucked away in paragraph four, once she thought of something for three – four paragraphs was a magic number, beloved by the inspector. No way to know why without asking...

The survivor coughed suddenly, and died. Lianne glanced at the corpse without great interest. He had an extensive record and was currently being sought in connection with two other heists. She started paragraph three – subject from paragraph one subsequently died of injuries sustained.

Her primary comms node gave an incoming message alert, tagged as a report on Kyla Chamile. The incident was currently stable so she switched her other systems to automatic and skimmed the new information.

The former cybercop had been involved in various activities of dubious legality, but she was also retained by Taskforce Eleven – interesting but no surprise: Kyla was an obvious recruit for a criminal investigation unit with a reputation for targeted brutality against tech bootleggers, and inclined to outsource dirty-work to ex-cybercops. There were no details, but then Eleven were notorious for minimal cooperation. It added another dimension to Kyla’s death, particularly as CyberLine claimed to have been unaware of her insertion into their system, denying any knowledge of her. From the testimony Jaz had offered, Kyla was stealing the software to reboot her systems to tackle some serious, unknown menace – peculiar, but consistent with the Kyla she knew.

Medway filed the message and stood her defences down. When the cleanup crew arrived she highlighted where the fire-fight started, where it ended and what sort of unused ammo the perps might have left lying around.

The squad leader looked it over. “Great. Nice and tidy, no-one needs taking into custody... ours now.”

Medway contacted Blossom Lane to sign off the incident, and tagged a request to check out the latest on Kyla. Permission was granted immediately and she drove back to her secure accommodation at the Peel House barracks.

Jaz was waiting for her, as if he had always been there in her two-room apartment. It had been hers, one of the few places where she felt comfortable shedding her armour, now it was theirs... and that worked too.

Jaz helped her strip off, tutting over the damage and inspecting the link nodes carefully. It had been awkward when she had first introduced him to Peel House, but his gift for node safety and maintenance quickly won him an informal place with the non-enhanced support staff. Jaz was as threatening as a stray kitten, and the hard-bitten cybercops of Peel House took in enough of those...

He helped her out of the armour-mesh leggings and handed her a pair of trousers in metallic mauve Stellex. She kept the upper body sensor net on, uncomfortable without the constant input to her processors. Jaz understood. Kyla always wore hers, even though the nodes were dead.

"Messages for you." He stroked the spinal nodes through the sensor net. "On your desk terminal... seriously locked."

"I guessed there would be." Jaz was a distraction, so hard to ignore. A single command through her processors and those node connections would unlatch – a tiny click which would arouse him like she had a direct, high-bandwidth link directly to his groin. But... "It’s to do with Kyla."

"I’ll take your armour down to maintenance." He carried her gear from the room. Medway could read him well enough to recognise the hurt at the slight rejection. “For Kyla. Right.”

She sat at her terminal and released the lower latches of her sensor net to expose her navel socket.

Three... Fingers either side to steady the implant, deep breath... Two... Tense belly, even though it doesn’t actually hurt... One! Slip the recharge plug in...

A moment of pressure, a sharp snap, felt more than heard... and breathe out... and relax. Medway always imagined a warm glow spreading through her belly, even though there were no discernible energy losses during recharge. It was neither pleasure nor pain, but there was need, on a par with her intimate dependence on her armour.

She opened the newly arrived files. Records of Kyla’s known contacts and activities, the unspecified work for Taskforce Eleven, attributed executions, suspected data-thefts. The pattern was curious – utterly amoral for the most part – and characteristically Kyla. She worked for anyone and did anything, but give her a sniff of bootleggers doing cyber implants or enhancements and there was a bloodbath. Anything she found which offered a threat to the Cybercops was ruthlessly stamped out. Or packed tight in metal drums. It was odd that Eleven hadn’t offered her permanent employment – she did their work with passion.

The data rattled down into her processors – sieved and filtered, looking for a pattern – best left alone for the software to do its work.

Another file opened – a sparse mention of Kyla’s work with CyberLine, courtesy of Eleven. Lianne guessed this was how Kyla got her illegal access – a little help from above. Or below, depending on how you regarded Eleven.

Kyla had tracked down a bootlegging operation which was successfully stealing military grade cyber enhancements and offering them to anyone with enough money. The list was alarming: sensor nets, control nodes and processors, skeleton reinforcements, reactive body armour – and all of it on a par with standard cybercop issue equipment. Overall, an investigative nightmare, plenty of suspicions with no evidence to prove them.

Lianne jumped to the next file and then skipped back to the employment records from Eleven that should never have come into her possession. The limited data on Kyla’s work for CyberLine was still being integrated into her processors, but that could wait: the essential detail was right in front of her. She had an official record (which Eleven would deny) of Kyla's employment by CyberLine. Honest, traditional wet-memory flagged up earlier data: CyberLine denied all and any knowledge of Kyla Chamile. The bastards lied.

She checked the details of the evidence file from Eleven, most especially the codes indicating who had access to this particular file. It told her nothing except that she should never have been able to get hold of it. Either someone had made a mistake, or Taskforce Eleven had deliberately leaked a lead. That was believable – they were devious bastards.

Medway read again more carefully – gross misuse of sensitive and powerful technology. It was exactly the sort of thing that Taskforce Eleven chased with ex-cybercops and liberal use of heavy weapons. Kyla had found the miscreants, and traced the theft route. It was even possible that CyberLine was innocent, and that the killing had been instigated by the bootleggers. Such an organised group would see Kyla as a major threat. Except, CyberLine were guilty of something – Kyla had worked for them, and they denied it.

The information added to the general confusion but now Medway knew what to look for, and had a chance to turn Kyla’s suspicions into a real case. The files she had obtained – or been allowed to find – suggested that Kyla had more information hidden away, but she would have made sure that Eleven, or someone working for them, could find it... probably.

The door opened behind her, triggering quiescent defence routines in her hardware. Before it was fully open she had unhitched the power lead from her navel and had her side-arm aimed at the intruder. Her finger held pressure on the trigger, half a thought from firing.

"Your armour will be ready in a couple of hours." Jaz held up a tube of antiseptic lube. “Quick polish?”

She relaxed. "I wish you would knock. I’m going to blow your fucking head off one day."

"Kyla got soft. Thought she was safe with me to watch her back."

Lianne put the gun down. She had only known him a few days but he acted as if it had been years. "Sure," she sighed. "Shut the door and I’ll tell you what I’ve found."

"Polish your nodes?" he repeated.

Lianne had never know anyone other than a cybercop get such pleasure from polishing someone else’s nodes. Unless you wore them, there was no way to understand. "Thanks." She released the latches on the sensor net, suddenly blind as the familiar flood of data was cut off.

Jaz was an oddity. No thermal-barrier metallised fabrics for him, but good old denim and cotton. His antique jeans were patched and re-stitched beyond all recognition and the crotch swelled tightly with the click of node-latch release. Lianne stared at the bulge – she had only known him for a few days, but it felt like... fabulous.

He helped her out of the sensor mesh, hanging it carefully on its stand. Without the urgent bulge in his jeans, she would never have known he wanted her. Without the sensor net to report physiological parameters she had to rely on her eyes and Jaz was so closed-in, almost nothing showed.

His toolkit was an Aladdin’s cave of soft scrapers, spatulas, tiny polishing pads and data transfer monitors. The sight of that trove of implements drove her to distraction, but Jaz had his routine, things done in their own time.

He started with her neck, leaning over her, polishing each data node and working moisturising cream into the surrounding skin. The final polish created minute static charges, just enough to send stray impulses through the node, an echo of the reboot orgasm.

"Did you make love to Kyla? As well as polishing her nodes?"

"When she asked me to."

"If I asked you…"

"Polish first."

"Of course," she murmured and reached out to the bulge in his jeans, tracing the line beneath the denim. He wasn’t the only one who could tease.

#  #  #

The door chime sounded; Lianne nudged Jaz. He was lying draped over her, snoring faintly, a well deserved rest after his performance as lover and maestro of the nodes. Kyla had been a lucky woman, in a perverse sort of way.

"I’ll get it," he mumbled and rolled off the bed, gathering his jeans on the way.

Lianne stretched slowly on the bed. She heard the door open and then the sharp snap of weapons fire. Jaz screamed; the vicious cracks of bullets tracked through the apartment, ripping into the bedroom, barely slowed by thin partition walls.

Lianne flung herself off the bed as two bolts of fire seared her leg. Body monitors registered two deep wounds in her right thigh. The armour sheath on the femoral artery screamed failure but the artery itself remained intact.

She dove for the far side of the room, into the wardrobe with her spare weapons. Another spike of fire twitched her over; her abdominal power cell registered a casing rupture. No electrolyte loss but power levels dropping. She grabbed the nearest weapon, slapped a magazine in... noise from there... incoming trajectory along there... ignore the pain, forget the pain... power supply crashing... just enough to crunch the data, calculate a target vector – Jaz was down and the assailants were advancing... correct aim for footfalls there... throw in best guess from experience...

Her armour piercing shells tore through the wall in the opposite direction. There were more screams – two distinct voices. She reached for another magazine as her power cell lost electrolyte containment. Her processor nodes shut down instantly and the corrosive pain of the chemicals gnawed savagely in her belly.

Distantly, she heard more gunfire, more screams. Whoever had breached the security of Peel House had left it too long to escape. Off duty officers were taking out the intruders. The crazy bastards were desperate and then some, attempting to murder a cybercop in the heart of a police barracks.

And the bastards shot Jaz.





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