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- Ben & Sebastian
Jaz hated the start of a break-in – boring, boring, boring. Technically he was the look-out, but cops only came near Old Heathrow House subsistence accommodation in daylight. Always in force, with armour and backup, and with a target in mind. Even so, Kyla wanted a look-out, so he looked, mostly out, through the rain.
A wet road, slick and glistening in the street lighting, waiting for the approaching dawn, the occasional car drifting past, silent apart from the hiss of water fleeing the tyres. Rumblesynths were disabled after dark, and the traffic nets disabled fuel-burning engines inside the city.
Boring, boring, boring... so he glanced at Kyla occasionally, intent on picking her way through the security protocols. Watching her was soothing, enchanting, delicious...
“Watch the road, Jaz.”
Boring, boring, boring... “Sure.” No one would come checking. No one would care that they were in the building supervisor's office.
Nothing to do except sit and watch the undercurrents of the streets. Old Heathy was close enough to the wealthy Stanwell Park enclave for dregs and cream to drift past each other, often difficult to tell apart.
Jaz counted Milo’s watchers, seven amongst the sparse early morning activity, more than usual but there were strong rumours of a move against Milo, and the wily old bastard was getting ready. Jaz watched them – there were always incidental casualties in a turf war.
“Prudence replied.” Kyla ground the good news out. “Waiting for Justice...”
Jaz nodded and watched the road. Only Kyla could spend weeks building a stepping-stone trail of trojans to crack a seriously secure system and then call them things like Courage and Hope, with Justice out there on point. They were good names, heartfelt and full of personal, passionate anger, but incongruous when she was hunched over the ageing terminal in the super’s office waiting for her digital hounds to howl in the night.
Boring, boring, boring... but getting close to exciting. Close enough for her to look at him for a moment. The same look as the day when she first arrested him, back when she was still a cop and inexplicably opened her armoured helmet. And let him... positively invited him to unlock the rest.
Soon. Just her lips moved.
“Justice is on line...” The terminal had her attention again. “"CyberLine just responded. Nearly there."
“All quiet on the street.” His voice shivered with anticipation - she always wanted him the most after a successful insertion. “Just a bit of rain.” A crazy relationship from the night she arrested him – technically off duty so the event was not automatically logged. A wonderful sort of crazy. “Still people out.” Somehow, she had seen the need in him, and an answer to her own. “Milo’s kids are kinda edgy. Keeping close together.” A strange and secretive bond where his second greatest joy was to polish her implant nodes – until the day a pulse discharge fried her enhancements beyond repair. “OK sorta edgy. No cops.”
“Turf war will keep them away.” A trace of fondness for her former colleagues came through her burned throat. “The armour won’t save them if things get really crazy.” Not many cybercops coped with full medical retirement, and those that did were careful to hide their former identity.
Kyla was different. She undressed to emphasise her past, daring anyone to comment – a skin-tight halter of gleaming, ultra-fine chain mail, encasing her breasts, reaching all the way down her ribs. The armoured sensor net no longer functioned, but she still had it connected to the line of control nodes along her spine.
Lower down, the nodes bifurcated, a double line of metallic disks opening out in a delta towards her buttocks. The disabled contacts for her reactive body-armour now supported swags of silver chains, chinking as she walked. As a counterpoint, a sparkling zircon adorned the redundant power socket of her navel. To the left of that, stark and ugly, puckered skin recorded where the worst of the pulse discharge had erupted. A single gold ring and tiny pendant chain were threaded through dark, knotted scar tissue – another defiant finger raised to fate.
From the base of her spine hung a tail of fake white horsehair, screwed into the ruin of the coccyx terminal, protruding through a slit in her jeans. Jaz adored that most of all, lovingly combing it out and latching it into place each morning with a pair of polished spanners. Ritual, she called it. Love, in his lexicon.
He turned back to the window – an elderly, battered van was parking with a rough buzz of motors straining at low revolutions – no rumblesynth needed there. Jaz ignored the three people who got out and entered the building. They weren’t cops and Old Heathy housed too many to know all by sight – unknown faces scarcely rated as entertainment.
"Jaz... Justice is done.. we’re in." Kyla stretched her arms up and cracked her knuckles – unnecessary, but the moment needed a shading of drama. "Locating the enhancement routines."
Jaz left the window to watch over her shoulder, idly stroking the data nodes on her neck, the only external fittings not vandalised. Her internal systems were disabled, initially by the surge damage and later during her decommissioning, but some of her hardware was still intact. The sensor net and reactive armour links were unsalvageable, but the processors buried beneath her liver were still operational if the batteries were charged and her navel power socket was still live under the concealing zircon.
"Will it be compatible?" He fretted, as he had for months over this snatch. "Must have been lots of hardware changes."
"Stop worrying." What was supposed to be a purr sounded like a growl. "They have to keep code for the oldest hardware. Plenty of antiques like me still working." She shifted slightly in the seat. "If I’m going to catch these bastards, I need every advantage. Need to be as functional as possible." She wriggled again. "Do something useful. Scratch the third node down on the right. Itches like hell."
He idly rubbed the skin, tracing the edge of the metal insert, automatically checking for the puffed or roughened skin of an infection. Kyla rarely suffered from them, but it happened and was best caught early.
"Got it, got it..." Her tone shifted and softened, in spite of her damaged vocal cords. "Undo the sensor net."
Jaz watched data slide up the low-tech screen, vanishing beyond the edges, captured and copied to memory. His fingers unsnapped the silver mesh from the nodes and let it peel away, revealing the weave pattern burned into her back by the flash-over. The mottled tan faded around her breasts to leave her cleavage a virginal white.
“Is it...?” There were so many questions, mostly for reassurance, and they had been through it all so many times. It was too late for doubts, and no place for delay or fishing for courage. “Is it OK?”
"OK and done." She handed him a half-dozen metal beads. "Connect me. Quickly. See how much still works."
He placed each one of the beads against its matching node on her neck, then knelt in front of her to ease the zircon gently from its place and slot a power feed into the socket. Current flowed for the first time in years.
"I know." Rough growl shift to husky contentment. "I can feel it. Power-on tests." She ran her fingers over the keyboard. "Initialisation started." Her breathing picked up the way it did when they made love. Just like the old days. “Hold me...”
There was nothing to compare. Long-dormant systems came back on line, testing their function and integrity, confirming external linkages. Hand-shakes done, proper charging started, full boot started. Tiny bursts of current slopped over into nerve endings, an electric caress as delicate and demanding as anything Jaz could do. Across her cortical interface, signals probed for their matching neurones, running comparisons for sensory translation.
The glory mounted, impossibly fine, and still so far to go. The experience carried a power barely remembered after being dormant for so long.
A sound like a breaking branch, sharp, loud and final. The door lock dropped to the floor – a disaster outside her warm envelope of reboot. Deep down, threat routines in her surviving processors kicked in. Instincts pumped her blood with adrenaline, honed by years on the streets as a cop, and yet more years surviving without the enhancements.
Jaz took two steps towards the door, stopping when three men walked in, driving him back in a panic. In the lead was a tall, elegant man in dark trousers and a plain blue jacket, emphasising broad shoulders. To his left was a solid ball of muscle with leather scuff-guards on the knees and elbows of a dark green bodysuit. The third man, hanging back by the door, was short and stocky, his fingers dressed with gleaming steel rings that flirted with the light as he rippled them suggestively.
Milo didn’t employ anyone like this. Not that Milo was likely to try to kill Kyla – he knew better than that. He avoided the sort of techsmuggling that pissed her off and she ignored his loansharking, thieving, blackmailing…
Jaz took another step back. Heavies. Not Milo’s. The turf war was starting and the opposition were making sure that Kyla wouldn’t be involved.
Normally, Kyla could have killed them where they stood. Even without her armour and sensors, she kept fit, maintaining the physical training of a cybercop
She turned her head slowly, still lost in the orgasmic rebooting. The joy was fading like a glorious sunset but it would be several seconds before she could move properly. She could only watch helplessly as a pocket pulser was brought round behind her until it rested against her highest vertebral node. Even though the circuitry was long since destroyed, the wreckage channelled the discharge directly into her spine.
The joy flooding into her body was gone. All feeling below her neck was lost. The basic system reboot was going well – the spinal overrides should have been available. Diagnostic displays flickered over her sight but it had been too long. Data channels and processors which had once been second nature now eluded her. It was worse than being a trainee again. Even with this bare minimum system running and half her nodes beyond repair, she should have been able to take them out. Instead, she could only follow the rest of the attack with her eyes.
Jaz screamed as they unplugged her power feed, a sound cut off with a moist thump. A tear slid down her cheek as the miniature pulser was placed against the socket in her navel. She felt no pain but the faint double jolt moved her head. Belly muscles contracted, storage cells ruptured.
"Sorry, Kyla. My name is Niels and I have a message for you." Her killer was so sincere, looking down, offering final condolences. "It had to be. You upset the Digital Tart. Sorry."
Her eyesight faded slowly. Despite the spinal paralysis, pain oozed through, a burning ache in her belly from the destroyed battery and the vital organs which had gone with it. Distantly, she heard Jaz run, crashing out the office's back door. She wished him well.
As Kyla died, Jaz fumbled a key from his pocket. Clare was out working – some job that meant she wouldn’t be back for weeks.
The killers watched him go; Niels smiled at his ineffectuality, no pity in his soul.
"I’ll waste him," the short one offered.
"Leave it," Niels snapped. "The Tart said just Kyla. Very specifically. A warning to any others." He shrugged. "Load of bollocks. She was a legend. Always worked alone."
"She had that piece of piss in tow."
Niels removed the ring and chain from the old scar on her belly. "Jaz? Part of the legend, man." His fingers slipped the gold loop delicately from the damaged flesh as if Kyla were still alive.
"Stop pissin’ about Niels," Muscles snarled.
"I like to have a memento." Niels held up his souvenir. "And even the dead deserve respect. Especially one like this."
"Burnt out fucking cybercop with a chain fetish. Should have wasted her slowly."
"Tart said make it fast." Muscles gathered the transfer beads and reset the terminal. "And Niels to do it. Pick her up and put her in her own room. Make it look like that old fart Milo did it" He stepped out into the corridor and stared at the fleeing Jaz. "Now we track the piece of piss. If she had a data-stash then freak-boy will know where it is."
Muscles glared at Niels. "You done pissin’ around? I’ll be impressed when I see you waste a real cybercop. Fix the door lock like we were never in here."
Niels tucked the jewellery into a pocket. "You wouldn’t understand." He reached out and closed her eyes. “Love to have met her when she was alive and functioning.” It was a crazy notion – he wouldn’t have survived it.
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