The perception of time slowing in a moment of crisis is a trick of the brain for most people. It’s not that more time is perceived, it’s that more time is remembered because of the emotional weight attached to each sliver of a moment. On its own, the human brain can only process inputs and form an awareness of its environment so quickly. Events that occur faster than the mind can follow are either fabricated by the imagination or vanish entirely.
For those who have a human brain.
Ai wasn’t limited like that.
“Ok, six Gray League for Sidewalker to deal with, how many GCPD are we facing here?” she asked. She could see two plain clothed officers standing on either side of her, and there was Adams with a gun to her head. Three was plenty for a hit team but there’d been more when they took down her father and brother.
“The three around us entered with five others,” Zai said. “Two are outside cafeteria door directing people away, one is waiting by the stairs and the other two are advancing to the roof.”
“How’s the EyeGrid on the roof?” Ai asked, pulling up the personnel files on each of the men who were arrayed against her. Each was on “The Special List”, which didn’t surprise her.
“Fully functional, and unhacked,” Zai said. “Whatever they’re planning, they’re fine with it being recorded.”
“That doesn’t sound like an assassination,” Ai said. “Can you find any official orders for them to bring me in?”
An eight person team to arrest one cop was incredibly out of line with how the GCPD usually operated but it wasn’t an impossible situation. Normally if an officer had to be detained, their partner would be notified, their weapon would be remotely locked down, and a second team of two would be dispatched, maybe with an additional drone escort as backup for particularly serious and violent charges.
Eight flesh and blood officers on the job would be considered an exorbitant expenditure regardless of the charges against the accused. The accuser would need to have deep pockets and an irrational desire to see the job overdone to pay for four times as many officers as was required, especially to bring in a unsuspecting rookie.
“No, there’s nothing…wait, yes there is,” Zai said. “It’s hidden from your account, which makes sense I guess, but it’s also fake.”
“Adams and the rest hacked the dispatching system? They never bothered with that before,” Ai said.
“I don’t think it was them. I mean, it’s a bad fake, but it’s not neanderthal levels of bad like they would manage,” Zai said. “I think it was created by someone who understands security infrastructure well but isn’t familiar with standard GCPD procedures. It looks like they read the comments in the code and tried to cobble together an arrest order based on that, rather than how it’s really done.”
“So, these guys could think this is a legit arrest?” Ai asked, trying to calculate the odds that the cops assigned to bring her in would also happen to be dirty ones. A quick approximation lead to it being about 90% likely, but factoring in that these were dirty cops that she had a personal grudge against dropped the number drastically below 1%.
“I doubt it,” Zai said. “The order appeared in the system about ten seconds before Adams put his gun to your head. They had to be moving here well before this fake got generated. Sorry for not catching them when they were heading in. I didn’t think it was worth monitoring people here with all the security the hospital has.”
“You had your priorities right,” Ai said. “I didn’t think we were this exposed yet.”
“How is Tython moving against both Officer Greensmith and Heartless at the same time?” Zai asked.
“It’s not a coincidence,” Ai said. “Either they found a link between the two identities or they’re worried enough about someone else having the NME activation code that they’re doing a broad spectrum sweep to remove anyone who it could be.”
Less than half a second had passed since Adams finished speaking and with Ai frozen “in surprise” no one was expecting her to react yet.
Not that she had many options. Police firearms were all but useless against NMEs or structures reinforced to prevent them from breaking in but against flesh and blood targets even a standard issue GCPD pistol could easily incapacitate or destroy its target at the user’s discretion.
“I don’t know if this helps or makes things worse,” Zai said, “but there’s another faked arrest order for Curtweather too.”
Curtweather, who was currently on guard duty for the witness they were supposed to be protecting. That confirmed that there was zero probability that Adams and his team were here on a real arrest order. Someone was paying for the witnesses survival, and the GCPD took those contracts seriously because none of them came cheap. If they’d needed to arrest both Ai and Curtweather, they would have removed the on duty officer first, in order to prevent any chance of the witness being harmed.
“It leaves open the possibility that Tython doesn’t know that Greensmith and Heartless are one and the same,” Ai said.
“That’s a good thing,” Zai said.
“It would be, if we could survive this one,” Ai said.
“You’ve got a clever plan though, don’t you?” Zai asked. “You’ve always got a clever plan.”
She sounded worried. Not emulating worry. Not practicing it because that was the appropriate response to the situation. Zai’s voice was filled with the kind of fear that you try to fight away and deny even when it’s impossible to do so.
Ai thought for a moment about how often she’d lead Zai into dangerous situations, and how often she’d gotten them both out. She knew she wasn’t as brilliant as Zai believed her to be. She took advantage of luck more than any sane person should, and even when her guesses were correct, it wasn’t always for the reasons she’d predicted. Despite that, Zai depended on her and trusted her. Together they’d been willing to take on corporate entities beyond the scope of any single human, even the humans who ostensibly controlled the giant multinational behemoths.
Everywhere Ai turned though, every plan she came up with, showed her how trapped she was.
“I’ve got a whole lot of ideas that make things a lot worse,” Ai said.
“Like what?” Zai asked.
“Like fighting Adams and his two flunkies,” Ai said. “We can take Adams down, right?”
“Definitely, I can jam up his bio-mods,” Zai said. “Even without reflex boosting that’ll give you the edge to drop him before he can aim and focus on you.”
“But that leaves us with two other shooters right here,” Ai said.
“You could knock into one to throw their aim off, but the third one’s a problem,” Zai said.
“Yep. Even if he only hits us with stun rounds, we’re going to go down, and then they’ll have us disarmed and dragged off to wherever they plan to take care of us.”
“Could we wait until they have us in the hall?” Zai asked. “That would limit their field of fire. We could use Adams as a shield too.”
“That gives us a better chance of surviving the initial volley,” Ai said. “They have reinforcements though and we can’t fight our way out of here. The isolation shields are too tough.”
“What about disarming these three and using them as hostages until we get the fake arrest order revoked?” Zai asked.
“There’s money riding on this now,” Ai said. “Even if you could get the fake order removed, the department would insist on my being brought in and held until a hearing could be convened.”
“That’s better than being shot full of holes though right?” Zai asked.
“I don’t know,” Ai said. The farther she looked the broader the disaster spread. “If they get me into a cell, they can suppress all of my biomods, including you. And we know how well the holding cells are monitored. If I go into one, I’m not coming out again.”
“There has to be some trick we can use to beat them though!” Zai said.
“This is my fault,” Ai said. “I shouldn’t have used anyone from the Special List. I knew we were on the knife’s edge of discovery but I wanted to do something awesome to save Harp and I went too far.”
“What do you mean?” Zai asked.
“It’s not just Adams and his crew,” Ai said. “Maybe we could work up a scheme to out fight them. The hospital’s a fortress. We could use that to our advantage. Even a broom closet might be defensible. But it doesn’t matter because there’s no chance that Officer Greensmith could do any of the things we’d need to be able to do to escape from this.”
“Officer Greensmith can do whatever we need to in order to survive can’t she?” Zai asked. “That has to come first.”
“There’s another option,” Ai said, dreading where her thoughts were leading her.
“Than you surviving?” Zai asked, anger flaring in her voice. “No, there’s not. There’s no plan if you can’t survive it.”
“Tython either knows who we are, or they’re a hair’s breadth away from figuring it out,” Ai said. “Or, more precisely, they’re that close to figuring out who Officer Greensmith is. Anything we do, any trick that gets us out of this, it’ll confirm that we were the ones behind everything on the police side of the events that have happened to them. It might even be enough for them to backtrack our movements and find clues to where the Black Valkyries are.”
“That’s not worth dying over,” Zai said.
“They’re going to take us to the roof,” Ai said, a plan forming in her mind that she honestly didn’t know if she was brave enough to attempt. “That’s the most open place we’re going to reach. If we’re going to get away from them, it has to be there.”
“Good. Excellent,” Zai said. “That sounds much more like the kind of plan I can get behind.”
“See if you can take control of a shipping drone,” Ai said. “But hold it down at its usual altitude. We can’t let them see it as an escape vehicle.”
“On it!” Zai said.
Ai relaxed her ultra-fast processing, letting her neurons and neural circuitry cool as her perception of time decelerated to match something close to the human norm.
“What’s going on?” she asked, feigning the sort of surprise she thought a rookie should feel at being accosted in a safe spot like a hospital cafeteria.
“Got a special request to bring you back to the station,” Adams said. “You’re going to come quietly right?”
“Yeah, sure,” Ai said, letting annoyance creep into her voice. “No need to draw your damn gun on me.”
“You’re a dangerous perp now Greensmith,” Adams said. “Just like your old man.”
Ai shook at his words but only because she realized he thought she didn’t know what had actually happened to her father. Even with her brother finding out and being killed for the discovery, making it twice as likely Ai would find something wrong with the official story, the men responsible still believed she was ignorant of what they’d done.
“We supposed to take her gun?” Silvestri, the cop on her right, asked.
“Yeah, it’s locked down but better safe than sorry. Take her belt too. The only handcuffs she needs are going to be the one’s she’ll be wearing,” Adams said.
“What the hell? This is ridiculous. It’s obviously been a screw up somewhere,” Ai said. “Or is this a really stupid prank?”
Acting like an aggrieved rookie shouldn’t have been hard, she had plenty of reasons to be angry, but losing her gun and toolbelt was almost enough to make her back away from the plan that she felt less eager to pursue with every step.
“Are you resisting arrest Greensmith? Do you want to go there?” Adams asked, digging the barrel of his gun into the back of her head.
“No. No. Let’s just get to the station and work this out,” she said, knowing she was never going to see the station.
Not in this life at least.