The Best Shot

“Madame? How the hell could you lose her again?” Medway checked through the security video feeds again – the ones that mattered were dead. “Phil was in that bloody lift. How did you miss that?”

“Misdirection, Officer Medway. My analysis suggests that Doctor Elsworth used Clare as a diversion. The gross system interference occupied my full attention whilst minor intrusions went unnoticed. I am unable to track the position of that lift. I am able to display visuals of the lift doors on each level.

“Right. Show me...” What would Kyla say? Damned silly question. Pay attention. Think ahead. Decoys are there for a reason, Medway. They get you looking the wrong way. So pay attention and think ahead... “Phil was in that exact lift. The one you sent Clare to. Which means it’s coming here. This floor. Right?” Pay attention, think ahead, cut the fuckers off... “If I can get there first...” She drew her side-arm and checked it. “Fifteen rounds and a spare mag. I’ll probably get a second or two as the doors open.”

“Unnecessary, Officer Medway. The lift doors open directly towards the main entrance to the Kernal Kombat suite.” Schematics appeared in the top left of the screen. “Automated gun emplacements will stop Doctor Elsworth. This facility is well-defended.”

Medway stopped checking her weapon. “No. They won’t. I don’t know the bastard as well as Clare, but I know he will be prepared.” She holstered her side-arm – if those military-grade anti-personnel machine-guns couldn’t stop him, a police-issue hand-gun was useless. “Need to think of something... shit!” The distinctive boom of heavy ammunition echoed through Kernal Kombat, a resonant thump in her chest. “Sounds like a breaching round...”

“Doctor Elsworth has arrived.” Madame brought up the camera feed, the lift doors sprayed outwards, Phil emerging with Miela’s limp body as a shield. “The incursion will now be ended.”

“Great.” Pay attention, think ahead... “While you’re doing that, record everything. Every bloody camera and sensor. Show me everything you can get on Phil. And get those combat teams of yours up here. He’s got something. A surprise. ”

The automated defences opened fire.

# # #

<STOP THE LIFT.>He’s here, he’s here, he’s here. <STOP NOW. STOP PLEASE...> Kyla taught the screaming master-class – if they haven’t found you, keep quiet; if they have found you... screaming might bring help, might get help killed, might save your life... There was no time for the complex decision making - Clare screamed because she needed to, and because she could... <HE’S HERE, HERE, HERE.... STOP THE FUCKING LIFT.>

"Shut up." Phil kicked her, catching her right hip. The savage impact opened a new and different pain that choked off any possibility of screaming, the germinating root of a numbness spreading down her leg.

The lift stopped and announced Kernal Kombat, but the doors remained shut. Phil pushed Miela in front of himself, brought his weapon to bear and unleashed an armour-rupturing round. The roar was deafening, blowing a cascade of lethal shrapnel around the confined space. Miela crumpled, medical smock torn and already soaked with blood – that light body-armour was not up to the job. Clare felt a few sharp impacts but the worst of it passed above her.

Ammunition like that was not supposed to be used within the confines of a building. Wearing full cybercop armour it might have been reasonable. Clare stared into Miela’s eyes. Are you dead? No? Does it still hurt?

Phil lifted Miela and used her as a shield again as he stepped out into the corridor. The building's automated defences locked on and fired, a rapid stream of bullets directed at his chest and belly. Miela, wrapped in her lightweight armour, took the brunt of it, absorbing the frangible rounds, so lethal against flesh, minimally destructive to the building structure.

Clare flinched as a deluge of alerts went off, purely inside her head – panic alarms, impact warnings, emergency support requests... Her system was still tied to Phil, part of his combat harem, and every impact was copied to her... pectoral buffering, sixteen percent capacity... lumbar structural supports compensating... right quadriceps support, seventy percent capacity... abdominal impact, reactive dissipation layers, thirty percent capacity...

Behind it, were simple directives. Stand up. Step forward. Brace my shoulders. Clare stayed down. The script was no longer running in her head, and she couldn’t stand anyway after that kick from Phil.

Phil was a machine, almost literally. Complex layers of mesh armour moved with the impacts, absorbing the energy, shunting it from place to place. Her own mesh responded, radar tracking following the intricate internal movement.

Phil was pushed backwards a step, as if caught by an unexpected stiff breeze, and then countered with his own weapon. Once the small calibre gun ports were torn to pieces, he loosed a pair of rupturing rounds at the doors to the Kernel Kombat enclave. He waited until the smoke cleared before firing again.

The massively reinforced doors resisted the first shots but folded as the barrage continued. Phil paused between each, gauging how far the distortion had penetrated. Five rounds... not enough... six... almost there... seven. An opening – not enough to step through but more than adequate to shoot through. Phil lowered his gun, tossed Miela’s shattered body back into the lift and walked the length of the corridor.

Minimal damage. He so wants minimal damage...

Except for Miela. Maximum damage.

Definitely dead now...

Clare closed her eyes. Too much pain and no strength to scream.

# # #

Automated defences versus Philip Elsworth: the grudge match. Medway watched in real-time – human shield, but surely some shots got through... a few taps on the screens got re-play, slow-mo, zoom and enhance... there, a single impact just above his knee, not a kill shot but utterly disabling... except, nothing happened.

“It’s like he’s wearing armour... Clare said something about this...” Medway zoomed in on Phil’s fashion-victim bug-eye goggles. “What’s that on his face?” There were visible cuts, spatters of blood, but those frangible rounds ought to be tearing him apart.

“Multi-layer reactive shields. Emily’s specialist teams use them.” Madame scrolled up an equipment list. “Discreet protection against low to medium impact munitions.”

“Bullet-proof.” Phil was no more than twenty meters from the doors, but advancing one step at a time, clearly watching for additional defences deployed by building security. “Exactly the right sort of protection, so he knew what to expect. Stopping this bastard needs something heavier... where are your combat teams?”

Madame flickered through camera angles. “Fifty-four seconds.”

“Too long.” Not my fight, not my responsibility... “Is Clare still alive? Can she help?”

"I am still registering her presence," Madame announced."Communication is possible. Doctor Elsworth will certainly be aware of it."

"We don’t have a lot of time." Medway glanced down at Critchley, still fighting his cyberwar, in spite of the damage to the door. Not my fight, but Elsworth was responsible for killing Kyla, for hurting Jaz... "Best chance is a head shot." She drew and checked her side-arm again. “I can’t stop him, but I can slow him down, maybe long enough for your security team to arrive. How do I get down there? Show me the local building plan... there... service access behind that panel, drop down... exit there...”

“A standard issue police side-arm uses comparable ammunition to the automated defences which Doctor Elsworth just defeated, Officer Medway.”

“I know, I know.” Medway popped the service access and opened a direct channel to Madame. “So keep me informed.... The bastard is probably armoured top to bottom, but a head shot... even the best reactive armour has to send the impact somewhere... Just tell me anything new. And tell your combat teams to move their arses. And tell them not to shoot me.”

"I estimate this as a very high risk action," Madame warned. "I am unable to assess the extent of his enhancements."

"Just give me the corridor video.” Medway slid down an access ladder and the camera feed was there, a flicker in the corner of her eye, suddenly front and centre when she glanced down and left. “Perfect. I need to choose my moment."

"It would not be safe to step out there without your armour."

"I am aware of that. Unlock this panel..." She put her hand on the release handle and leant her weight against the inside of the armoured door. The hinges were the wrong side – if it opened the other way, she could have used it as a shield... What would Kyla say? It was an even toss between don’t be so damned stupid and get the fucker for me. "I stand a chance.” That was crap. And Kyla would say so. “Head shot, and just keep shooting until the bastard goes down." You’re the one going down, Medway. Not encouraging, but Kyla never approved of stupid.

"Combat teams are close. Seventeen seconds."

"Still too late.” Medway followed the security feed - Phil was walking past her position, not more than ten seconds from being able to fire through the gap in to the Kernal Kombat suite. "I can buy some time." For Jaz, and Kyla... for fuck’s sake, because it was just the right thing to do. "Might get lucky and kill the bastard." Please.

She opened the panel and stepped out behind him, pistol raised. He turned and she fired, catching him in the face. A smear of blood appeared, no worse than a shaving cut, as the DerMesh shielding distributed the impact. He fired a back a fraction of a second later, his own aim was only slightly disturbed, just enough that the armour rupturing round exploded inside the open service space beside her. Medway was blown across the corridor, hard against the far wall. She fell in a heap, stunned by the impact, sensornet logging multiple warnings..

And then there was Clare, suddenly yammering in her head... <Farral: Medway? You alive? Medway?>

Phil turned away and carried on to the enclave door. Medway still had her pistol in her hand, but it required an almost impossible effort to raise it and take aim on the back of his head. Her finger hovered on the trigger – if his face was armoured then so was everything else. That damned DerMesh was better than she could have imagined. He ignored her because she was no threat. The only way to identify a suitable weak-spot would be to run a sensornet scan – the same suicidal manoeuvre which had almost got her killed facing down a helicopter at CyberLine.

<Medway: Alive. Bloody hurts. Now shut up a minute. You there, Madame? I’m open to suggestions.>

<Madame: Emily is evacuating all personnel from the Kernal Kombat suite. There is nothing else that can be done.>

# # #

Clare gritted her teeth and pulled herself up. Standing was impossible, but she could sit, braced against the inside of the lift, and watch Phil cat-step down the corridor. Miela was very, very dead. Literally blood, guts and digital implants everywhere. Phil was seconds away from victory – forty-three seconds, according to her processors – and then he would come back for his toy. Miela was gone, but Clare... he would come back, because she was useful. A new toy, barely unwrapped, with so many foul games to play. The whole cycle of subjugation would start again.

I can see you... Her systems were busy mapping Phil, military-grade apps identified him as a threat and hunted through all available responses, dismissing every possibility.

I can see you... Clare knew how he worked, it was as simple as that. The spinal armour was good, but a single heavy-calibre round just there – a red spot highlighted the target in her head – would end it. Or repeated impacts from something softer. The skull armour was sophisticated, but impacts from multiple angles would break through, if only Clare had a weapon, the skill to use it, and someone else to do the same from another angle.

In fact, there were at least seven weak-spots, if only she had an appropriate weapon and the necessary skills.

I can see you... what the fuck...? The corridor wall opened, Medway stepped out... go for it, blast the bastard... Phil turned, Medway fired, noise and light, and...

<Farral: Medway? You alive? Medway?> Her digital eye zoomed in – down, but still breathing... there... eyes moving... <Medway?> And there, trying to raise her weapons again...

<Medway: Alive. Bloody hurts. Now shut up a minute. You there, Madame? I’m open to suggestions.>

Clare grumbled to herself. There was nothing Madame could do and the seconds were running out. Medway still had her gun in her hand, and Clare had targets...

<Farral: Medway, listen... not much time... Can you stand?>

<Medway: Can try... no...> She levered herself up, shoulders braced against the wall – on her knees, waving her gun like a fashion accessory. <Best I can do.>

<Farral: Shit.> Seven weak spots dropped to three currently viable. <Can you shoot?>

<Medway: I can bloody shoot... if I knew where.> She fell over sideways and managed to land sitting, propped against the wall. <Shoot from here.> Her gun was steady now, held firmly, some promise of actually being useful...

<Farral: No good. Angles are wrong.> Three dropped to zero. Even if he was facing Medway, there was only... <Got one other option...> If only he would turn around... <Hey! Anyone else hear me? I know who the Digital Tart is. I’ve worked it out.> Come on, Phil. Turn. Look at me. Shoot me... or not. Leave out that last bit. <Anybody?>

<Madame: Please proceed. The information will be valuable, whatever the outcome.>

<Farral: Phil, I know who you work for. I got the name. What’s it worth, Phil? Come on. Take the time to kill me or lose the war. Is it worth it? Come on? I can see you…> And ready or not I’m fucking coming for you. Phil ignored her and took aim through the rupture in the armoured doors. Just need the bastard to turn... so her processors spewed out options for that... <Medway? Can you shoot the back of his left knee? Twice... like this... >

Medway squinted and fired. Phil dropped to a crouch – no harm, just impact. He rose immediately <End you, bitch...> and took a return shot, a fraction of a second after Medway fired at his knee again... His round went high and wide, ripping the wall apart and killing the lights. Ruined power lines sparked briefly and then went quiet as circuit-breakers did their jobs.

<Medway: Clare? Any other ideas?> Phil took aim into Kernal Kombat again – Medway watched him, outlined by the light-spill through the damaged doors. Phil was ready, shot lined up, both legs well braced, taking his time because he knew he could, and those combat teams were taking too long... <Clare?>

<Farral: It’s complicated. How do I send this stuff? I got the answer, but...> Go on. Send. Transmit. Just fucking go to Medway... <Like the bloody toilets at Old Heathy... fourth floor... flush and flush and flush but nothing wants to go down the bloody tubes... Oh...>

There. A plan. Medway assimilated the data – a list of targets, in sequence, precise angles and timing. Eighteen shots... fifteen round mag, three already used, one spare mag but have to find time to change... Crazy complicated... In the near-dark, confused by the light-spill through the ruptured doors of the Kernal Kombat suite.. Forced to use her sensornet radar to sight her target

<Farral: Any time now...> No time to think, just act...

Medway brought up her sensornet radar - a far shorter range than the high-power system provided by her armour, but enough to outline Phil. Nearly got me killed last time...

Phil turned in response – she had his undivided and lethal attention now.

She fired, tap, tap, dead-centre on his chest. Both rounds skidded off, but the second went up, just under his chin, except not enough to do real harm. Phil fired on reflex, aim disturbed; an armour piercing round ripped into the ceiling.

A scatter of emergency lights came on. Medway squinted – too dim, so not helping. Just line up on the target. Use the radar and hope to not die...

Two shots done, allow three seconds, fire again... rib cage, just to the right of the sternum, again, matching shot to the left. Again, right and left... and Phil took a step back. A shadowed giant, suddenly picked out in a pale blue wash as more emergency lights kicked in.

That hurt, didn’t it?

Three rounds, pop, pop, pop... all dead centre, just below the sternum, a smack in the gut but one of the better shielded areas, able to shunt the impact away. And then again, pop, pop, pop, same target, and wait... three seconds... change mag now...

Phil fired, punching through the wall above Medway, the jolt throwing her aside. She lay on her back – the angles were wrong now, the Clare plan in pieces... and Phil turned to shoot again... alignment!

Back to the chest, tap on the left, tap on the right.. and again in the centre... and wait... use everything, infra-red, radar, count his breaths... wait.... was that one or two...?

<Farral: Now.>

Medway took the final shot and nothing happened. She emptied the magazine against his chest, but still nothing.

<Farral: Perfect...>

Phil took aim on Medway. Faintly, in the distance, there was the pounding of feet – the first combat team, just too late.

<Farral: I watched it...>

Phil wavered for a moment and then just stood there. Waiting.

<Farral: Wish I could show you. It’s all those layers of DerMesh. You have to get them bouncing just so... then that last one slides through and...>

<Medway: What’s he waiting for?>

Phil’s targeting systems held his aim, locked on to a point just above the bridge of Medway’s nose. Targeting radar hammered her at full power, an unnecessary display of fury, letting her know she was dead before it happened. His finger tightened on the trigger.

Another dozen emergency lights powered up, pale and low-level, not helping at all.

<Farral: It’s just the DerMesh holding him up...> His arm dropped and he fired again, detonating the round into the floor at his feet. <You ripped his heart out. I know he fucking felt that. Just had to wait until his brain stopped working.> The DerMesh kept him upright for several seconds more before the processors confirmed that he was dead, and entered a passive mode. <You got the bastard. Got him.>

<Madame: Clare? Who is the Digital Tart?>

<Farral: How the fuck should I know? Someone get me a doctor.>

<Medway: Was that a bluff or do you know?>

<Farral: Of course I don’t know. Now get me a fucking doctor....>





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