Going On

Medway picked the straightest, flattest line she could see and pushed Roadkill to the limit. The heavy truck was built for speed and endurance, but not acceleration. The CyberLine perimeter fence came up fast, long before Roadkill could gather enough momentum to punch through cleanly. Medway sat calmly, hands resting on the controls as steel and fibre strands stretched and snapped, picked out by Roadkill’s lights, as they flew away into darkness, each one stealing more speed. The trailing razor-edged tangle-wire clung tenaciously – a design to defeat this sort of assault, snare the offender and bring them down...

Roadkill was going to lose. Medway had the engines screaming against every red line in sight, and it was not enough. The last tangles of wire refused to snap, unravelling reluctantly, dragging and clawing at their prey, parasites gorging themselves on precious momentum. Pursuing Bulldogs joined the fray, hammering at the back of the trailer with penetrating rounds and furiously exuberant missile fire – more enthusiasm than sense. Stray shots went past, tearing up the ground... tearing up the fence...

Roadkill was barely moving when the tangle-wire grip failed and they were free. Now, the weight and power worked against her – sinking into soft ground, sliding out of control on the smallest mistake. Tarbuck was silent, eyes tight shut, fingers locked around her safety harness as if that would do any good. Medway eased off the engines until the over-heat warnings subsided, and guided the truck through soft ground, coaxing more speed, slewing from one patch of marsh to another. In turn, Roadkill shouted back – obstacle ahead exceeds ground clearance... sub-frame impact in three, two, one... hazardous terrain, turn now, turn now... unstable terrain, turn now, turn now...

The Bulldogs rallied and pursued – far better suited to the rough terrain. Medway kept the turbines running just below imminent failure, angling towards the road, but the soft ground was like driving fast on ice. Every correction of the rear sent the nose sliding out of control, every slight turn to avoid trouble swung the tail. Tarbuck whimpered – one tiny, crushed scream after another, timed to each gut wrenching lurch - and Roadkill slid inexorably toward lower ground. The Valiant truck was built for something like this, but not so extreme.

Tarbuck finally said the words out loud. "We’re going to die, aren’t we?"

"Unless you know anything that might help, yes, we are going to die."

"I don’t know anything else."

<Porson: $$ encrypt/4 $$ Where are //data lost// urgently require //data lost//>

Porson or not-Porson? Were flaky comms a ploy to refine her location? No need – her enemies knew exactly where she was. Please let it be the first hint of the police nets punching through the comms blocks...

Medway triggered all of her distress signals, including a call to Superintendent Morrison – no point in holding anything back.

Unstable ground ahead.... turn now, turn now... Roadkill lurched, floundered uncontrollably and finally wallowed. Emergency... extreme gradient... emergency... traction failure... Warnings came on top of warnings as Roadkill slid down a steep, grassy bank and took a final nose-dive into a concrete drainage gully which gathered surface water from the whole of the Park area. The heavy truck teetered on its nose, a momentary and impossible balancing act, and then toppled forwards, landing with all of the cab doors wedged by the sides of the gully.

Emergency... multiple failure... security alert on secure cargo... emergency...

"Shit." Medway silenced the alarms and cut the engine back to its minimum idle.

"I can pick up local net traffic," Tarbuck announced excitedly. "The jamming has stopped. It… Oh."

<Medway: Roadkill, display self schematics.> The truck responded with its own blueprints.

"Local net is snarled up," Tarbuck continued quietly. "No input being accepted. Emergency warnings only. Imminent failure expected."

Medway attempted to access the police net again and found nothing, not even interference. The whole system was down: she was now completely on her own with an innocent civilian to protect and important evidence she couldn't report. Or maybe a guilty civilian to protect as a prosecution witness. Abject terror was no guarantee of innocence – Tarbuck could easily be a loose end and her co-conspirators were tidying house.

"Cyberwar tactics..." Her processors churned the data quickly. "Only explanation. It won’t stop them from trying to kill us. Might slow them down if their own comms are fouled up." Was this what you found out about, Kyla?

"Doors are jammed." Tarbuck sounded small and lost, as if she no longer cared that they were a sitting target.

"These things are built with all sorts of emergency exits." Medway pulled open a hatch in the now-vertical floor, and armed the concealed mechanism. "They are designed for situations like this. They build them to win a war, not just survive it."

Explosive bolts fired, rocking the cab and settling them tighter into the gully. Two panels dropped out, revealing a darkly shadowed drop into the moist depths of the drains. Tarbuck just stared at the exit.

"Time to go." Medway powered her armour and checked weapons. "Keep your head down and start running."

"Aren’t these things designed to blow up, or something?"

"There are demolition charges built into the cargo space... But the blast would be contained internally. Nice thought, though."

Tarbuck shuffled to the open hatch. "But the back of the truck is already ruptured…” Sitting on the edge, it was still a long way down... “Isn’t it? Ruptured? I didn’t really follow it all, but there were lots of warnings…"

"Too many things at once," Medway grumbled. She held Tarbuck by the wrists and lowered her down. "Start running and don’t wait."

<Medway: Roadkill, your cargo is at risk. Confirm type four breach of cargo compartment.>

<Roadkill: Confirmed. Integrity fully compromised. No unauthorised entry attempted. Denial systems armed. Standard Parameters.>

<Medway: Set amendment to denial system parameters with two minute delay from now. Detonate on any attempt at entry. Define entry at ten meters proximity. Send me a three second countdown. No general warning. No explanation.>

<Roadkill: Confirmed.>

Medway dropped into the culvert, knee-deep in water. Her armour absorbed the impact, but the jolt set off a warning twinge in her belly – this was far more than light duties. Armour power registered less than fifteen minutes of operation at normal usage, less than ten in close-quarters combat.

"Keep moving," she told Tarbuck as she caught up, disabling the voice reinforcement on her helmet.

"Doing my best... The water is fucking cold and I landed on my arse."

"Cold is the least of your worries." And at least she sounded like she cared again.

They ran awkwardly, wading urgently through the water; Medway picked the first side-branch of the drainage system, back up towards the road. The going got heavier working against the sluggish flow, sliding on concrete slimed by weeds and tangled with debris.

"It gets shallower ahead." Medway had her sensornet mapping the terrain – not much point trying to conserve battery power any more – and pushed Tarbuck ahead. "Have to crawl to keep out of sight."

"I’m soaked already."

Medway muttered a curse. "My armour is not rated for prolonged immersion." And that was when it was in prime condition. The remaining minutes of power were irrelevant if water got into the bullet holes.

<Roadkill: Three...>

"What happens then?" Tarbuck stumbled and found her feet again. Medway gave her another nudge forwards.

<Roadkill: Two...>

"I take it off before it seizes up..." What was the damned truck talking about now?

<Roadkill: One...>

“Shit...” Medway threw herself flat in the water, taking Tarbuck down with her, and Roadkill performed its final duty. The roar rolled over them and a wafting breeze flowed up the gully, last gasp of the blast wave.

Medway sat up and ran her diagnostics, ignoring Tarbuck spluttering and bitching about the cold water. Other than the existing cluster of damage where the power cell had been hit there were no problems. Ten minutes and a handful of seconds to go. Nearer seven with any exertion...

"That will slow them down." And something else to go in the eulogy – Officer Medway took down more of the bastards down before she died. "Get up and keep moving."

"Freezing…" Tarbuck found her feet. "Water's absolutely…"

"Move."

The gully became ever shallower until it stopped beneath the outflow from a drainage gutter – they were below the road bounding the fields. The pipe ahead was no more than a foot in diameter – no hope of escape even if Medway had been prepared to risk being trapped. The road was an obvious route of escape, but far too exposed.

"We’re in trouble," Tarbuck said through chattering teeth. "Aren't we?"

"We just follow the line of the road. Try to find the natural cover."

Tarbuck corrected her. "No. I mean they’ve launched the helicopters. There are four of them as part of the security team. They haven’t blocked me from alert announcements. I think the comms failure is forcing them to use open channels."

"Shit. They’ll have every damn tracking facility."

"So that’s it…"

"Your only chance is to hide behind me..." Medway paused – that was the sort of crazy shit Kyla would say. "I’ll try to bring them down. My armour should protect you from the shooting. If you get out alive, contact Superintendent Morrison at Blossom Lane, Greater London Force."

Tarbuck shuffled round behind Medway. "Any one going to miss you?"

"I hope so. I really hope the bastards flying those choppers miss me."

"I have two children..."

"Sorry. Yeah, there’s a guy who might miss me." There was no time to think about that. Even if she died, Jaz would be fine – her colleagues had all but adopted him as one of their own. Peel House was home to one stray dog, two cats and one Jaz. For the moment her fears were swamped by the desire to get back at the bastards who were trying to kill her – probably the same ones who had murdered Kyla.

The first two helicopters announced their presence with a clattering roar, coming in steadily, side-by-side, hunting. They were running without lights but as soon as Medway switched to infra-red the engine signatures were unmistakable. The imagery was good enough to show her where they were, but not precise enough to be able to take them down at that range. She contemplated using another scrambler, but they were probably too far away and the flare would give them an infra-red lock.

"Here they come," she growled and raised her side-arm, waiting until they got closer. “Got you...” Plenty of power left in the batteries for the targeting systems – radar output at maximum, multi-frequency scans, sensor-net and processors crunching the data for range and direction, wind-speed estimates to get the perfect shot...

Big mistake...

The helicopters came in low and fast. Medway locked onto the first one and was enveloped in a hail of bullets as the more sophisticated systems on the aircraft used her own radar as a target. The impact drove her back, pushing Tarbuck over, throwing her aim utterly. Armour systems screamed failure warnings and the hammering of the ammunition began to tear through the outer layer. All she could do was fall over Tarbuck and hope to shield her even after the rounds burst through and killed another cybercop.

There were still four minutes of power left in her system – reserves which would endure after she died. She set a timer to shut down to a minimum level so that those four minutes would stretch out and provide power to her processors for several hours if her hardware survived – a last bid to protect the evidence logs for later recovery.

Targeting sweep... shouldn't have used the damned targeting sweep... Didn’t use the scrambler. Didn’t want to give my position away... Fucking rookie mistake...

“Medway?” Tarbuck shouted over the roar of weapons.

“Hush...” I’m trying to die calm. “Nearly done.” Jaz. Think of Jaz. Happy memories... Not Kyla dead in her apartment. Another testament to some piece of carelessness.

Medway opened her eyes and stared at the incoming aircraft. The hammering on her armour grew heavier and the warnings more dire. She forced herself to raise her weapon and fire a last defiant burst.

The lead chopper went down in flames.

"Got you, you bastard..." Except, not...

The return fire shifted from Medway to the road above her. Someone else had joined the fight, scratching the sky with the tell-tale streaks of self-propelling medium calibre rounds. The surviving chopper was fighting back furiously as it retreated, pulling out of effective range of the lighter weapons. Medway forced her gun up once more. The helicopter was close enough that she might get lucky.

The magazine was empty and she couldn’t move well enough to reload. Tears ran inside her helmet as she was forced to watch the helicopter hover effortlessly, pouring munitions at her unexpected allies. There was no way they could win against that. She forced herself to stand, one arm totally seized.

"Got to move, Tarbuck. While they’re distracted."

<Porson: Keep your bloody head down, Medway.>

She ducked instinctively and glanced up in time to be blinded by two brilliant streaks of light. The second helicopter tumbled into the ground, trailing flame. Her surviving helmet systems clearly recorded the heat-trail of the missiles which had glared across the night sky.

Medway stumbled forwards, sank to her knees and then fell awkwardly as more joints on her armour locked up. She turned her head to check on Tarbuck who was cowering against the bank, bleeding from light shrapnel wounds... No sign of a direct hit... Prosecution witness sufficiently intact...

A pair of armoured legs blocked her view. She turned her head a little more to take in the cybercop standing over her. The timer expired and her suit locked completely. She had minimal power left for comms and internal systems, and that was fading fast.

<Bainbridge: Keep your head down a bit longer, Medway. Emergency combat team are flying in from Reading. Porson pulled out all the stops once he worked out someone was pissing with our comms.>

"What’s happening?" Medway asked, tired and relieved, voice muffled within her helmet.

"Shit hit the fan, Medway. Someone cracked our cyphers. We were on our way when someone started a damned cyberwar. Several teams probably had to turn back once air-traffic control went down. Now keep it quiet for a moment. Records says CyberLine have another two of those choppers and we’ve only got two missiles left. And Ricky, the new kid, is itching to shoot something. Think he’s going to be alright..."

"But Reading are still coming?"

"Last shout had them a couple of miles out. They've got high-altitude surveillance kit – no need for air-traffic advice. They can lock this down and wait for the shit to settle."

Bainbridge prodded the manual releases on Medway's suit to disengage her leg armour. Several of the automatic catches failed to operate. It was a miracle that any of it still worked. He popped the seals on her arms as well.

"Hold still." Bainbridge forced the sections apart, using the augmentation of his own suit. "You picked an interesting moment to test the limits of your armour." The last leg section separated. "Who’s your friend?"

Medway sat up, even colder now that her legs were no longer well shielded from the wind. Freezing water clawed upwards, wicking along the weave of her sensornet.

"CyberLine PR executive. Wrong place at the wrong time." Take a breath, just check... Tarbuck still looked fine. “Prosecution witness.

"Good job...” Bainbridge wasn’t quite laughing – cybercops and witnesses were not the usual combination. “Medics should be on the way. Can’t be sure. Too many comms systems are down." He straightened up a fraction. "Chopper coming... closing fast... come on Ricky... get that bloody missile locked on... OK! Relax. One of ours...."

<Porson: Emergency team will secure CyberLine site. Medway’s backup – hold your positions. Wes, get on with an evidence transfer.>

Bainbridge knelt down. "You up to this, Medway?"

"Never better," she growled back and unhitched the front of her body armour, then had to let him finish prising open the battered panel. Buried inside was a comms port and a looped length of fibre. "I’ll let you do the rest."

Bainbridge made the connections to his own port and began taking a copy of all of the evidence which she had collected. Sophie arrived, smears of soot on her armour, and took station guarding them, although it was probably safe to assume that there was no one still shooting. The people Porson had selected for the back-up team were leaving nothing to chance.

Another helicopter swept in low and headed towards the Military Applications compound where the rest of the CyberLine aircraft were still grounded.

"Pickup coming in," Sophie announced. “You just lie back and wait.”

Medway finally relaxed. This was familiar. The magic words. The aftermath of a bad scrap, medics and backup pouring in. The scream of sirens announced the arrival of yet more police vehicles – lie back and wait. Lingering doubts about Porson still nagged her, but the sheer scale of the police presence said he was on the level.

A small helicopter set down a hundred yards from the gully, disgorging another four cybercops, fully armoured, targeting radars running hard enough to register on Medway’s surviving systems.

Bainbridge picked her up and carried her to the waiting vehicle. Sophie followed him with Tarbuck and laid her along a bench seat, pulling restraining straps in place to hold her. Suspect or witness, no-one was letting her get killed.

"Cutting it fine," Bainbridge muttered, interrogating Medway’s status. "Another couple of minutes and you’re going to need a full reboot."

Medway laughed sharply. "Doesn’t matter. Evidence logged." Witness saved.

"Open up, woman." He pulled out an emergency battery pack.

Medway eyed him warily and then used her remaining battery charge to release the last of the latches and unhitch her sensor net. She was shaking too much to insert the plug into her navel and had to let Bainbridge do it for her.

"I know..." His touch was delicate and sure, but she still tensed, eyes clamped shut. "I hate anyone doing that for me.”

She relaxed when she felt the minute snap of the connection and her processors reported the trickle of current.

"Now just lie back and let it happen." The magic words. Again.

Medway relaxed properly once the chopper was in the air, flying low and following the major roads. The pilot was taking no chances with a stray shot from the CyberLine security troops. Medway scanned the available data traffic and found the main control channel. There was a running commentary of the action on the ground. As exhaustion overtook her, she left her nodes to record the conversation, making full use of the power from the emergency pack

Medway shut her eyes and let it happen. Then slept through the start of the cyberwar.

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