Ai kept the accelerator of the police cruiser floored despite the fact that the explosion had knocked her car into an uncontrolled slide. It wasn’t a matter of evading the fireball from the exploding van behind them. The cruiser was tough enough to withstand both the blast wave and the shrapnel that pelted them from the destroyed vehicle. The parts of the van the blew up didn’t worry her. She had more specific concerns in mind.
“Did somebody just…?” Curtweather asked before he ran out of words.
Ai didn’t blame him. It was a big fireball, and a louder blast wave. Bright lights and loud noises are disorienting enough when you don’t know what they probably mean.
“Nuke our pursuers from orbit?” Ai said. “Yes. Yes they did.”
“It wasn’t a nuke, but you knew that didn’t you,” Zai said.
“I did, I don’t know what it was but we’re much too alive for that to have been even a micro-nuke,” Ai said.
“You’re still running away,” Curtweather observed, as Ai forced the police cruiser back onto the road and pointed away from the wreck behind them. They’d lost almost all of their velocity in the slide but once Ai had the cruiser oriented in the right direction they started flying across the asphalt at an increasingly respectable pace.
“That am I.”
“Why?” His calm spoke to the sort of shock that came with a resigned acceptance of one’s fate.
“Something blew up the truck that was chasing us,” Ai said.
“The truck was trying to kill us,” Curtweather said. “Can’t say I’m unhappy about that.”
“What makes you think the people who destroyed it don’t want to kill us too?” Ai asked. “Or do you have friends on an orbital weapon platform who were trying to help us out?”
“If whoever took out the truck wanted you dead too, wouldn’t they have blown you up already?” Zai asked.
“Probably,” Ai said. “Depends on their reload time. That’s not what I’m primarily worried about though.”
“Being blown up out of the clear blue after seeing that happen to someone else isn’t your primary worry?” Zai asked. “What could be worse than that?’
“Them,” Ai said, looking in the rearview camera.
From the fiery wreck of the truck, three vaguely humanoid shapes emerged. They weren’t humans, nothing human moved like they did, and human didn’t generally do well with large hunks of metal embedded in them at random spots. Humans also had skin, not interlocking metallic scales.
“Those look a lot like NMEs,” Zai said. “Why are there three NMEs climbing out of the a burning truck?”
“It’s broken,” Ai said. “And unfortunately they’re not. The truck can’t catch us, but I’m guessing they’re going to take a stab at it. Or us. Or me. I don’t want to get stabbed. Would just ruin my whole day. I’m babbling. Cause this sucks and I’m terrified. Should focus on the task at hand, right?”
“We should go back and identify the bodies,” Curtweather said.
“Don’t think we need to go back for that,” Ai said, her voice higher than she meant it to be.
“We need to know who’s gunning for us,” Curtweather said.
“No, I mean, we don’t need to go back because they’re still coming for us,” Ai said.
“What? Who’s coming…” Curtweather’s words trailed off as he looked at the camera showing the scene behind them. “Th-three? That’s not right. That’s not right at all! What did you do?”
“Nothing!” Ai lied. “I still think you’re the target.”
“Have you met you? If there was an office pool to fund raise for setting an NME on you, I’d toss in a week’s paycheck.”
“I hate you Greensmith,” Curtweather said. “And if we die, I’m going to make sure they eat you first.”
“NMEs don’t eat people,” Zai said.
“They also don’t show up in sets of three and target innocent police officers,” Ai said.
“Well, so far they’re only doing one of those things,” Zai said.
“Why did I ever teach you to make jokes?” Ai asked.
“So that you could tell when you were really in trouble,” Zai said. “And speaking of trouble. There’s an interdiction field around us. I can’t reach the rest of the net.”
“An interdiction field? How big is it?” Ai asked.
“I don’t know, let me look that right up. Oh wait, ‘File Not Found’. It’s like I’m cut off from outside information or something.”
“Ok, I deserved that one,” Ai said. “It doesn’t make sense though. You can’t set up an interdiction field around a moving car. It would have to be the size of an entire sector to keep up with us.”
“And that would take out the net connections for every business in the sector. Even Tython doesn’t have that sort of clout,” Zai said.
“No one does,” Ai said. “So it’s got to be something else. Because Gray League assassins and rampaging NMEs wasn’t enough to deal with today.”
“Maybe we can outrun the field?” Zai said.
“Trying that. Doesn’t seem to be working though.”
In the rearview mirror the NMEs were racing forward and catching up to the police cruiser with a four legged run that would have done a cheetah proud for its smooth grace.
“We need to lose those things!” Curtweather yelled, clutching his gun to his chest.
Ai was about to complain that she was trying to do just that but their cruiser wasn’t equipped to outrun high speed killbots when another explosion lit up the road behind them.
Two of the NMEs leapt out of the blaze, springing from the flames like grasshoppers. The third was less graceful, tumbling forward to skid across the pavement on it’s face before rolling to a stop and lumbering to its unsteady feet.
Ai wanted to spin the cruiser around and watch whatever was going to happen next but the two fully active NMEs that were chasing them argued against that.
“The bridge is up!” Curtweather said, yanking Ai’s attention back to where she was driving.
They’d almost made it to the industrial sector Ai had been aiming towards. All that stood between them was one of the cities artificial rivers. It served as a minor barrier to keep private citizens off corporate property where the companies had nothing to directly sell them. Access for workers was provided by shuttles the various companies in the industrial sector ran for their employees, which used one of three bridges that crossed the river.
As a police cruiser responding to a reported emergency, Ai’s vehicle should have automatically flagged the bridge to lower. That it was up suggested a likely but still painful possibility.
“They took control of the roadway automation didn’t they?” she asked.
“That would be my guess,” Zai said. “The last ping I had from the bridge control was that the bridge was down. Even if they’d told it to raise the moment we hit the interdiction field, it couldn’t be fully open like that already.”
“How deep do they have this city hacked?” Ai asked, fear curdling into frustration.
“It wouldn’t have to be that extensive,” Zai said. “Your patrol route was pre-scripted, and the spot where the van started to engage us was one they chose. Your options from there have been fairly limited.”
“The monsters are gaining us,” Curtweather said.
“Maybe we should have called in the department,” Ai said.
“Yeah, a few meat shields would be nice about now,” Curtweather said.
“I meant to help deal with these guys,” Ai said.
“Even High Guard gets its butt kicked by one of these things. The only thing a wagon full of cops is going to do against three of them is make good on a lot of life insurance policies.”
“I don’t get how they just happened to have three NMEs in that truck,” Zai said. “Wouldn’t one be overkill for a single cop?”
“Even a truck full of hired thugs is overkill for one cop. If Tython only wanted us dead they could had someone wait till we got off shift and then simply shot us. This is theatrics more than anything else.”
“Then this interdiction field doesn’t make does it?” Zai asked. “It’s got to affecting the local cameras too.”
“Someone obviously disagrees with Tython’s methods,” Ai said. “Which means I’m kind of hoping they’re not familiar with ours.”
“It would be nice to have a clue who that someone is,” Zai said.
“Well, it’s someone with the tech to fight an NME, and who’s not a fan of being observed,” Ai said.
“The Black Valkyries?” Zai said.
“Them or someone who operates a lot like them,” Ai said. “Which now that I say it sounds a lot scarier than I’d been thinking it would.”
“Why would that be scary?” Zai asked.
“We don’t know what the Valkyries agenda is but what if part of it is avoiding contact with another group that has the same tools and could actually give them a fight?”
“Sounds like a fight that we don’t want to get stuck in the middle of,” Zai said.
“And yet, here we are.”
One of the NME’s surged forward the last few feet needed to grab ahold of the cruisers rear bumper and Ai felt the car’s speed bleed away.
She was distracted from the monster climbing up onto the truck on the car by the lithe metallic body that landed on the hood of the cruiser.
“Keep Going,” a text from an unregistered sender said as it scrolled across Ai’s headsup display. “I’ve got this.”
The NME’s and the Valkyries added weight taxed the cruisers power train but Ai didn’t let up on the accelerator. Speed had bought her a precious few extra seconds of life and more speed looked like it would continue to do the same.
“Swing left on West River Run,” Curtweather said.
“Can’t. The other one will catch up if I do,” Ai said.
“There’s not much choice, we’re running out of road,” Curtweather said.
“Nah, look there’s plenty of road,” Ai said. “It’s just sticking up at a forty five degree angle.”
“The bridge? We can’t make that jump. This isn’t a movie, gravity works here,” Curtweather said.
“Then it’s good that we don’t need to make the jump,” Ai said and threw the cruiser’s power train into overload.
“Can you access the bridge controls and give it a fast release on the far side. Curtweather’s right. For once. The numbers aren’t working for jumping the full gap,” Ai said.
“The interdiction field is still in effect, but I can see if I can reach the control system as we pass the reporting booth on this side,” Zai said.
“Go for it,” Ai said. “I’ve got a fallback plan, but I hate it.”
“Going faster isn’t going to help, and why didn’t you do this sooner!” Curtweather yelled.
“We have about thirty seconds before the power system either smokes and dies or goes up like a bomb. Neither seemed like good options before.”
“You’re heading towards the bridge,” another text appeared saying.
“Might want to hold on to something,” Ai texted back as the cruiser zoomed past the reporting terminal and shattered the wooden pole that blocked traffic from entering the bridge.
“Yeah, you’re definitely not a regular cop,” the next text said.
Something to put on my tombstone, Ai thought and gripped the steering wheel harder.
“We’re going to die!” Curtweather said, the urge to point out the obvious apparently overwhelming him.
“Bad news! The field’s too strong. I can’t get a link to anything. Not the bridge controls. Not the NME. I can barely even interface with the car! The bridge isn’t going down!” Zai said.
“This is really going to suck then,” Ai said, releasing the power train’s full capacity and jettisoning it from the cruiser just before the car launched off the end of the bridge and into the clear and empty sky.