Keeping in Contact

Medway returned to her apartment and put her armour on for the first time since she had been shot. It was the single longest time that it had hung in the closet, unused. As the sections snapped into place and identified themselves to her processing nodes, the integrity and status indicators settled back into their familiar form. All storage systems showed a full charge and the targeting interfaces for her weapons ran through their initialisation checks as if eager to be back in business.

Armed, armoured and ready for business, she walked to the armoury to collect additional supplies. Her leg wound, apparently healed and painless whilst slopping around in her underwear, twinged with every step. The scar-line where they went in to save her guts and replace the batteries tugged. It ought to be fine inside the armour, but something wasn’t right, nags and twinges to remind her you got shot..

“Yes? Officer...” The junior engineer on duty checked the logs. “Medway.”

Medway flinched when someone accessed her diagnostic systems without warning.

"Looking good, Lianne..." Jerry, the senior systems tech, appeared and took over. “Easy there, girl...” Her suit reacted to the adrenalin surge – targeting sweeps, threat assessments, weapon safeties off... “Still jumpy, eh?”

“I got shot.” Sorry. The word was there, but not coming out. Not after the bastards hit so close to home.

“I get it...” Of course he didn’t. "Looking good, Lianne. We did some maintenance work while you were down. A few upgrades.. Go easy until it settles in properly. And go easy on the new battery packs. How do you get through so many? Just don’t bloody break it."

"Thanks." He was a grumpy sod at the best of times, but she had known him all her working life – starting out as the junior tech who fitted her first set of armour. "So if I find the bastard who topped Kyla, I’m good to shoot."

“Good to shoot...” Jerry frowned. "And take out whoever got Jaz hurt. Good kid. Be a serious waste if they don’t patch him up properly."

"I’ll get them.” Kick the door down, shoot first, redecorate later...

Jerry hesitated. "Rumour is – bootleggers. Mil grade kit."

"Maybe."

Jerry consulted his terminal. "Distress alarms – no problem. You want a couple of scramblers? New product for evaluation. They fuck node interfaces. Manufacturers claim they can be set to leave designated systems alone, so if I tie them into your threat monitoring systems you can screw someone else long enough to blow their frigging brains out."

"Sounds good. Who makes them?"

"Lilywhite. Trying to break into the cyber-combat market."

Lianne hesitated. Lilywhite had a significant question mark over them. The name cropped up a number of times in Kyla’s files, although there was no particular accusation. It was odd, but had to mean something. If Kyla had been interested then there was something to be concerned about.

Every little helps. "I’ll take it." Take Lilywhite kit to tackle Cyberline... use something else if Lilywhite came in the cross-hairs

"Good. I’ve got a car for you."

"How?" The budget ought to only stretch to a train fare for a light-duties outing.

"In for repairs. Some idiot trashed a transmission bearing – so it needs a gentle road test before I can send it out again."

"I’ll take that as well." The workshops usually had a handful of vehicles in for repairs or maintenance – but rarely drivable. Cybercops and their vehicles rarely had anything in between unscathed and write-off. "Not likely to turn sour on me, is it?"

"Treat it right, and you’ll be fine," Jerry growled. "No hard acceleration, no high-speed work. Keep below one-fifty. Don’t try to ram anything."

Medway clipped the distress alarms into the appropriate recesses in her armour. "Anything else?"

"Don’t rely on the remote access systems on the car. It would have gone back out an hour ago if one of the processors hadn’t blown. Must be one of the comm units. Seems to have limited the range – you can tell the doors to open if you're close enough.."

"I’ll remember that." How do you blow the processor enough to keep the car officially off the road, not enough to make it unusable? "Thanks Jerry." Best not to ask tricky questions.

"Just bring all the bits back." It was never clear whether Jerry really cared for the meat which was wrapped in all his hardware – but it sounded as if he did. Almost.

The car was much as she expected, paint scarred and scraped, waiting for its next turn in the body-shop, the cybercop unscathed baseline. Only hitting something hard enough to damage the fibre-reinforced shell would speed up the maintenance cycle. The Greater London Armoured Enforcement Division logo on each door was worn away in places.

<Officer Lianne Medway: Request recognition.>

<Pursuit unit 593/A/021: (Current designation = Lameduck) Assignment to officer Lianne Medway acknowledged. Current status is Under Repair.>

<Officer Lianne Medway: (Current designation = Lianne) Door open.>

There was a click and the driver’s door opened halfway with a whine of stressed motors. She pushed it the rest of the way and accessed the diagnostics. According to the vehicle’s systems, the door was fine.

"Shit." <Lianne: Start engine.>

<Lameduck: electric motors available. Gas turbines unavailable at current location.>

Lianne got in and pulled the door shut. Not even Jerry could override the system to the point of allowing her to use the turbines before she hit the motorway – not without a declared emergency.

<Lianne: Destination is Oxford Headquarters Armoured Enforcement Division.>

<Lameduck: Route. $$ transmitting map $$>

Lianne engaged the drive and let the car roll out onto the streets of London. Until she reached the M40 she would have to drive herself – the automatic systems simply couldn’t cope with the urban traffic. More truthfully, they couldn’t cope with the morons who thought that they could do better than their own vehicle automation and insisted on manual override.

"Ought to change the fucking law...” another civilian idiot cut her up, but light duties or not, cybercops didn’t bother to pull-over crap drivers unless they were bad enough to deserve a couple of tyre-popper rounds under the mud-guards.

Just driving set off twinges from her injuries. Once on the motorway she let Lameduck take over and drifted off to sleep. The General Motors Peacekeeper was a solid, reliable vehicle with an efficient set of automated systems, but some things had to be passed on to the officer in the driving seat. Lameduck woke her twice to log speeding drivers on manual control – Medway could have slept through it, but that underlying tension was still there and even minor alerts woke her to witness Lameduck issuing mandatory stop instructions to the highway enforcement net.

Sometime later, Lameduck unintentionally woke her again, logging one of the offending vehicles motionless on the hard-shoulder, with no detectable occupants in the vehicle, but a patrol unit would attend in due course. There was no sign of the second vehicle and Medway went back to sleep - the mandatory stop had been issued and would catch up eventually.

It didn’t occur to her that a vehicle could be hacked to ignore police instructions.

# # #

Modern Oxford was a civilised place to drive in, so much so that Medway was almost at the cybercop HQ before Lameduck woke her properly. Manual override was not permitted anywhere within the city – largely for the benefit of the huge number of cyclists. Lameduck manoeuvred carefully, obeying every instruction from the city traffic management net.

Lameduck found a space and parked. The door unlatched and half opened under protest, until she pushed it hard and the motor caught properly. Her nodes responded to a standard identity query from the building systems.

She walked round to the main entrance where a portly sergeant was waiting just inside the door. Medway’s sensor net was running at its lowest level, just enough to warn of a severe threat and keep a mild watch on her surroundings. Warnings flared, unexpected radio interference... not obviously directed at her... her sensor net ran active scans, almost a panic response...

"Welcome to Oxford...” A loud sergeant, a voice that carried... “Lameduck Medway. I’m Sergeant Porson."

She silently cursed Jerry and his crew for the designation on the car. "Thanks Sarge."

"No escaping it... now turn that bloody sensornet off." Medway shut down to a basic passive scan – the radio noise was from a pair of Harper Medical prosthetic legs. “Better. If you’re going to have a paddy over every basket case, I’m sending you back to London right now.” Porson turned with only the faintest sound of servo motors. “Lameduck Medway... Me they call Hopalong... when they think I can’t hear...”

"Crap.”

Porson laughed. "Right... this way...” He pointed her into the duty-sergeant’s office and shut the door. “So what the fuck is going on? Your status is given as light duties – no way you should be wearing the suit. Your boss has tried to keep things quiet, but the word gets around. Shot up in the middle of the cybercop barracks, old Kyla getting bumped – and there are people here who knew her. This stinks, Medway. We got crash teams, secrecy and the super wants to see you."

"It’s patchy, Sarge." What did a faint sniff of local officers on the take actually smell like? Was a crippled cybercop on civilian-grade prosthetic legs a prime choice for turning rogue? "The hit on Kyla was professional. One of her last jobs was up here and I’m following up the lead. And I’m being very careful. Kyla had a hard reputation, even without the suit on. They took her on, took a serious crack at me..."

Porson nodded. "OK. I hear what you’re not saying. The super left me to pick your crash team. He said smart and heavy, and no sniff of anything bad on their record. So, this is what you get. One rookie – Ricky – not been here long enough to have any questions hanging over him and proven himself solid. Then Carl and Sophie. They worked the Long Horse operation so they know about heavy trouble and corporate corruption. That information is classified, Medway, so keep it zipped. No one other than me and the super knows what those two did."

"What were you Sarge? When you had two good legs..."

"Group forty-one...”

“Right...” Even the cybercop hard bastards had their elite hard bastards.

“Same as your fourth backup. Wes Bainbridge. Got caught in trouble in a net black spot. I took the blast from a Reaper mine across my thighs. Wes slapped the emergency medipaks on and carried me two miles with half his armour systems fried. He had the working legs, I still had my comms. By the time I could get a signal through it was too late for my legs."

"Serious team," she said softly.

"Very. If you get in trouble bad enough that they can’t pull you out...” Porson shrugged – trouble that bad was obviously on the cards. “They’re the best I’ve got. And apart from Ricky they want to keep their past quiet. Even for cybercops they’ve worked some of the roughest jobs. I’ll run your comms and co-ordination. They’ll be ready to move at a moment’s notice."

"Anything else I should know?"

"Yeah." He grinned at a private joke. "I still talent-spot for forty-one. According to the reports you shot two of the bastards straight through a wall with half your systems fucked. You want a change of career? I can make a few calls..."

Medway shook her head. "Once in a lifetime is enough."

"Fine. I’ll take you to the super, then you can meet the team, agree identification protocols, set up non-standard encryptions. All the stuff to keep you alive if this goes bad. First rule when you don’t know who to trust, make sure no one outside your group can piss about with your comms."

"Sounds good to me." Provided she could really trust Porson.

“This way...” He pushed the door open and led the way deeper into the station. "One last thing."

"Sarge?"

"Is your will up to date?"

"Thanks, Sarge," she said sourly. "This is not going to be a fire-fight."

"That’s what they all think." He directed her to an open door. "Superintendent Varec…"

"Come in and sit down Medway…" Varec was sharp, in a hurry. "This won’t take long." He gestured to a chair with a fire-scarred hand. He was lean and filled with energy, but every movement was awkward and jerky.

"Wrecks and cripples at Oxford," he said roughly – Lianne was staring at his hand. "A quiet posting if you're not bad enough for a medical retirement. Think yourself lucky, Medway."

"Lucky enough to be still alive, sir."

"Right." He picked up a wafer from his desk, the outside printed with the Crown seal. "Your warrant. Don’t see many of these and when you do they mean trouble. That’s why you have Sergeant Porson sorting out your crash team. I find it almost beyond belief that our suspicions encompass CyberLine. And troubling. Even if they are totally innocent I would expect a vigorous response. Be careful, Medway. There are other reasons why the wrecks like Porson and myself are in Oxford. The service volunteered us as test subjects for CyberLine to try to paper over our cracks. So... if you are lucky, the worst that will happen is that CyberLine will pull every string they can find to have you blocked."

"May I ask a personal question, sir?"

"What did they do to me?"

"No sir, were you a success or a failure?"

He slapped the desk. "Damn good question, Medway. A bit of both. Now, CyberLine. To the best of my knowledge, they do not know that you are coming. The request from Superintendent Morrison came direct to me. I instructed Porson personally. The judge who authorised the warrant is an old friend. Fortunately, your journey helped to provide cover for the whole operation. Your vehicle filed a pair of mandatory stops – one of which was ignored. I’ve upgraded the traffic offence to something more serious and sinister. Officially Porson has assembled a crash team to support you in tracking a dangerous suspect who may have been involved in the death of Kyla Chamile. That will last until you present the warrant at CyberLine."

"Neat."

"Luck, mostly. Make the most of it. Go and get started. The longer you wait, the more time people will have to wonder and ask questions." He looked her straight in the eye. "Powerful crowd at CyberLine and you are about to annoy the hell out of them. A lot of heavy people are going to be on my tail once you start causing trouble. The sooner you get done, the more chance you have of finishing before someone talks to a suitably senior government arsehole and the operation gets yanked. This goes dead once civil service windbags start asking what’s going on."

Medway took the warrant. "Thank you, sir."

"Don’t thank me, Medway, just do it right and fast. I never met Chamile, but I spent a lot of time convalescing and took an interest in the other wrecks. I know her story. Get it right, come back in one piece. We don’t need any more Chamiles."

Medway thought they needed more like Kyla, but she understood what he meant. Kyla had been too good for her own health.

"Now, get going."

"Really today sir?" She grimaced. "I don’t … get on well with light duties but...” The armour didn’t properly allow for a shrug. “I get tired quickly at the moment."

"Know what you mean," he grunted. "I didn’t think of that. There's only so long we can hide a warrant against CyberLine. Hours, not days."

"Shit." Medway ran a quick internal check, processors assessing her state of health. "Not good, but I’ll manage."

Varec frowned. "Be very careful Medway. Fatigue is a killer."

"Careful. My new middle name, sir. After you’ve been shot in a secure police barracks…"

She left him nodding grimly.

Everything ached – leg, gut, head – and kicking a few doors down no longer looked so easy. Cyberline was not so much a door as an armoured bulkhead, and more like a full tactical assault than light duties..

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