Duck Shoot

Medway had a slow but reasonable drive to Northampton. Contact with the temporary police net was horribly sluggish, but every half hour there was a general broadcast on road conditions, blockages and delays. Medway updated her route-map as the information came in – there was no need to respond, adding load to the limited net bandwidth. Several times she had a temptation to try out the lights and sirens but resisted – according to the status information Lameduck was still capable, but then it was also sure that the door opened fully.

At Northampton itself, the traffic slowed to a crawl and the data-rate on the temporary net improved. A message came through, specifically aimed at her, giving instructions on the route to follow. Medway acknowledged and then spent two hours crawling through the town. Eventually she reached the road north to Market Harborough and found the traffic slowed even further. Miles passed at what seemed like no more than a walking pace.

<Lameduck: Emergency channel ident request has been issued. Standard reply returned.>

Medway nodded vaguely, trying to stay awake as the light was fading and the car in front ground to a halt once more. <Medway: What’s the emergency?>

<Lameduck: No emergency declared.>

Medway was suddenly awake. <No further transmissions.> She let her processors scan the available data from Lameduck and learnt nothing useful. <Set for hostile environment. Direct and immediate threat to life.>

<Lameduck: No indication of hostile elements. Unable to scan while transmissions are disabled.>

What had Porson said? Traditional detectives should have gut instinct? <Medway: No transmissions. Emergency ident request is fake. Those channels are not currently operational.>

<Lameduck: Emergency channel ident request has been issued. No reply returned. Request is repeating. Priority has been raised to level one.>

<Medway: No reply.> Lameduck would have to handle the programming conflict as best it could. If they needed another signal, they must be approaching along the line of the road. They had no triangulation and she had a little time. <Disable receivers.>

<Lameduck: Unable to comply. You have insufficient authorisation.>

Medway wanted to get out and rip the antennae loose from their armoured enclosures on the body shell of the car. If they had the codes for a more serious level of priority, Lameduck would be forced to reply. When she'd declared immediate threat to life, she had opened the way for an overriding priority ‘officer in danger’ alert to take command of her vehicle.

<Lameduck: Mandatory halt order has been issued against this vehicle. Errors in code sequence. Order ignored.>

Medway gripped the steering wheel tighter. That had been a clever one, and it surprised her that they had got it wrong.

<Medway: Specify error.>

<Lameduck: Vehicle ident code was not correct.>

They had good information – but not good enough. <Medway: Has your ident been modified in the last thirty six hours?>

<Lameduck: Vehicle ident modification confirmed.>

<Medway: What is current vehicle ident?>

<Lameduck: That information is restricted. You do not have access authority.>

Medway smiled tightly. That was Porson with his paranoid belt-and-braces mentality. <Medway: Define that data source as invalid.>

<Lameduck: Confirmed. Signal is logged as hostile.>

Now let them try something clever. Unless they could fake themselves as another data source, Lameduck would ignore even an officer-in-danger alert. She reached out and stroked the inside of the door – without her personal armour it was all that stood between her and trouble.

<Lameduck: Officer-in-danger signal has been issued. Data source is not hostile ident. Bearing and elevation of source is coincident with hostile ident. New data source logged as hostile.>

Medway blinked. <Confirm elevation of hostile source.>

<Lameduck: Estimate range four kilometres, elevation three hundred meters.>

It was another bloody helicopter chasing her.

<Medway: Significant risk of radar-seeking munitions.>

<Lameduck: Acknowledged. All antennae shut down.>

Medway reviewed her position: unable to transmit a call for help and still at least six miles from Market Harborough, her only likely source of help. A helicopter without authorisation would probably be shot down if it tried to overfly the town, so there would be an element of safety while she was there. On the other hand, if it failed to get her on the way in, it could wait for her on the far side. If they knew where to find her, then they probably knew where she was going.

It was like... damn... couldn’t remember... side-arm damaged, a disabling hit on her left elbow armour, Kyla backing away from a home-made bazooka...

Relax, Medway. Just a shit storm... only two real problems to fix...

Firstly, Lameduck had no offensive capability. According to the hardware status even the concussion grenade launchers were unavailable.

Secondly, this fucker with the bazooka... No...

Secondly, forty-eight hours previously a helicopter had almost torn her armour off. The memory of the rounds hammering through the multiple reactive layers was still fresh, insistently coming back. The bruises still marked her skin. No armour now, just Lameduck, and the bodywork had been sufficiently compromised that it wouldn’t survive long. Lurking in her evidence logs were the last few seconds of the conflict – something she ought to purge and still couldn’t.

<Lameduck: Antenna activated. Duration point two seconds. Estimated range of hostile is two kilometres, elevation four hundred meters.>

Just need something to settle the odds, Medway...

Medway ran through what she knew about the General Motors Peacekeeper, looking for characteristics which would make it stand out from the rest of the vehicles on the road. Without any of its datacomms running it should look identical to the cars around it until they could get a serious visual close-up. She gripped the steering wheel harder – every vehicle would have an active link to the local traffic management net. Even with the net down and vehicles set to manual, the transponders would make occasional access attempts. Ordinary vehicles would be emitting a query pulse every thirty or forty minutes.

"Shit." That was settling the odds the wrong way.

The helicopter could have overtaken her by now if it chose. It would be hanging back, looking for those signals from each vehicle, moving forward as each one was eliminated. The Peacekeeper had a non-standard traffic net transponder. They would be looking for that, or for the vehicle which made no transmission within a sensible timescale.

Another mile crept by slowly, the line of traffic surging briefly ahead. Lameduck made another micro-survey and found the helicopter less than a kilometre away. Medway cursed steadily. There wasn’t even anything useful to record in her evidence logs. The helicopter would finally get close enough, pick her out and then be gone.

Another half mile went by. Medway was about to request another range update but the helicopter answered her unvoiced query. Lameduck rocked as the first of the heavy calibre rounds pounded the roof. The car in front veered across the road, and then the next, incidental victims. A burst of flame from behind flickered as another went the same way.

Lameduck reported structural failures in the armoured roof.

"Shit..." The sensors failed totally and the car reported the default condition: vehicle destroyed. A perverse design choice for such a robust machine. None of the external cameras still functioned to show her a view of her opponent.

<Medway: Activate passive antennae.>

<Lameduck: Multiple active tracking signals. No target lock indicated.>

Medway didn’t think it would matter much. They were trying to fix a missile on her, although the cannon fire would do the job eventually. Above her, the roof was bowed in, the structural struts deformed by the bombardment. All that was still keeping her alive was the passive fibre-composite layer which bought time, not immunity. The gouging would break through eventually.

OK, Medway, throw your fucking sidearm at the dick with the rocket... Happy times, and no help.

<Lameduck: Incoming signal. Police frequencies. //relay// >

<PoliceIdent = BlackDove: Cease fire. Identify yourself. You are in violation of this airspace under the current state of emergency. Cease fire immediately or you will be… shit…>

Medway craned her head to try to look out through the window. The relentless hammering stopped as her pursuer turned on the police helicopter. Tiny flashes of light showed the position of the killer and, in the distance, a set of running lights jigged to avoid the fire. Without warning, the police aircraft began to drop and the attacker moved towards it to confirm the kill.

The sky lit up for a second, a long streak of light from close to the ground to a point in the sky. Bright, brilliant yellow wrapped the attacking helicopter, dulling to red; a smoking ball of fire plummeted to the ground. Medway slumped in her seat, she had seen that scene before as she prepared to die at CyberLine.

That works as well. Kyla said that often enough.

The local police had deliberately drawn her attackers away from the road before bringing them down, minimising the hazard to other traffic. Somewhere nearby were Cybercops. And surface-to-air weapons.

<Medway: Bring all antennae back on line.>

Lameduck began feeding her a limited picture of the world and exchanging ident information with the police helicopter Black Dove. The car picked up the signals of another aircraft climbing and then speeding towards them, hovering overhead after a few minutes flight time, which left her increasingly tense. It flew without any comms activity until the moment it touched down beside the road and disgorged four cybercops who bracketed Lameduck.

<Jedman: This is Officer Mitch Jedman. Please step out of the vehicle.> There was no doubt about the threat behind the ‘please’.

Medway let Lameduck open the door and then pushed it the rest of the way. She stepped into spotlights from the second helicopter still in the air, utterly naked without her armour. Her hands were shaking frantically, making it difficult to clutch the infocards which were supposed to smooth things over.

<Medway: Officer Lianne Medway, Greater London on temporary assignment to an investigation unit at Oxford.>

<Jedman: A long way from home, Medway…>

<Medway: Take your pick. I have a whole stack of documents.> She held out one of the travel authority cards. <I’m heading north seeking a possible suspect in a major crime.>

<Jedman: Take five steps forward. Place it on the ground and move back.> There was a tense minute or so whilst he studied the data on the card and then a burst of comms traffic. <An escort will meet you. I will accompany you in your vehicle – assuming that it can still move.>

Medway blinked and then raised her hands a fraction to show the severity of her shakes. "I’m not sure I can drive at the moment..." She had to turn aside and vomit beside Lameduck – even more humiliating than losing her armour. She wasn’t even aware of the comms traffic as Jedman cleared it with his headquarters.

"Thanks," she whispered as he helped her into the passenger seat.

"Why’d you give up the suit?" he asked bluntly, settling behind the wheel.

"Wrecked it," she managed resentfully.

"Not many cops manage that and live."

"I did," she said shortly. "And no hope of a replacement until this shit ends." She couldn't mention the temptation to give it up permanently. He would never understand.

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