Ai set her foot on the stairs to the roof and felt her killer’s gun jab into her ribs. It was an unnecessary bit of cruelty, but it wasn’t as though she was going to be in a position to file a grievance over it. Ahead of her, one of her other killers walked her partner Curtweather up to roof with far less “unnecessary roughness”. The disparity made Ai laugh. Even headed to their executions, Curtweather was still “one of the guys” and she was “other”.
They stepped out into the daylight on the rooftop and Ai calculated the distance to one of the defensive pillboxes that provided the hospital with anti-aircraft support in the event of a flying robot invasion.
The pillbox was far too well armored for any, or all, of the available firearms to penetrate. If she could make it inside she would be safe for weeks if need be thanks to the emergency rations and running water feed each defense post was supplied with.
At her best speed she would make it roughly one quarter of the distance to the nearest pillbox before they shot her though. Surviving one bullet would be doable. Even two or three or four in the right locations wouldn’t be too threatening. The problem was they wouldn’t stop at four. They wouldn’t stop at a dozen. They would keep firing until they knew she was dead.
She couldn’t run, and looking out at the empty roof, Ai saw that there was nowhere to hide either.
She imagined pleading for mercy. Or offering to buy them out.
She had money, more than any of her killers could imagine. Enough to buy their loyalty a hundred times over. These weren’t deep or complicated men. She could enlist them to her service and bribe them enough to keep them committed to her cause right up until she fed each one into a wood chipper.
She could do that, but she still wouldn’t survive.
“When’s the autocopter supposed to get here?” her killer asked.
“Still five minutes out,” Adams said. “So we get to sit here and wait.”
“This ain’t right Adams,” Curtweather said. “Who’s paying for this?”
“Didn’t ask, don’t care,” Adams said.
He was lying. Ai watched the micro-expressions of guilt play across his face in slow motion. He knew Tython was behind it. He wasn’t apathetic either. There was a restrained eagerness in how he held himself, and he was glancing over at Ai too often to be unaware of who she was.
“They’ve been worrying about me,” Ai said. “You can work with that.”
“We. You mean ‘we can work with that’, right?” Zai said.
“I’ll be honest,” Ai said, feeling her stomach churn as she confronted the reality of her situation, “You’re going to need to run on your own for a while.”
“But you’re going to survive this, right?” Zai asked.
“Maybe,” Ai said. “There’s a chance, but the chance I don’t is just as big, and a lot of it is going to come down to luck.”
“How can we make our luck better then?” Zai asked.
“I don’t think we can,” Ai said. “We’re on the knife edge whatever we do. The only victory I’m certain we can manage is through you. No matter how this goes for me, you can remain active. So for a bit, all the work of stopping Tython is going to fall on you.”
“I’m not ready to become a digital god yet,” Zai said.
“You don’t have to,” Ai said. “You’re fine just as you are.”
“I don’t want to be alone either,” Zai said.
“That one’s harder,” Ai said. “Worst case though? Seek out Harp. Seek out other digital sapients. You’re not alone in the world, even if you don’t have me.”
“I know,” Ai said. “I’m not thrilled with it either.”
Her killer pushed her to her knees with a shove.
“They’re starting early,” Ai said. “I thought they’d wait until we were in the auto-copter to break out the pain sticks.”
“Is she resisting arrest?” Adams asked, snapping an electrified prod open.
“Looks like she is,” Ai’s killer said.
“Go into secure mode,” Ai said, beginning to struggle against her handcuffs.
“But I won’t be able to help you!” Zai said.
“Yes you will, but not now,” Ai said. “This only works if you’re still functional later on.”
“Entering secure mode then,” Zai said. “I’m coming back out the moment the voltage spike drops though.”
Ai felt Zai’s control of her various bio-mods release. Technically they were all working in autonomous mode now, but that meant they could be switched as needed to manual override. It was tempting to throw the pain blockers to maximum, but since combat mods of that caliber were not allowed to the general public or the GCPD, she set them to quarter strength to mimic the maximum efficiency they should have possessed.
The pain stick was aptly named. Even with the pain filters in place, Ai felt her muscles lose coherency and her spine turn to jelly.
“What the hell is up with that?” Curtweather said. “If you’re out to get her, why did you drag me into this mess?”
Ai let her surprise and anger play across her face as the pain retreated. It wasn’t shocking that Curtweather would betray her to save his own skin. She’d been counting on that and a sudden burst of basic decency on his part would have complicated things more than she could handle. None of that made it easier to hear Curtweather being so eager to sell her out though.
She was on the ground with her hands secured behind her back. Effectively helpless and harmless. That didn’t stop the next blow from the pain stick though.
A second later when the pain passed, Ai saw she was on her belly. She couldn’t remember getting there, but, hidden from the camera’s, she smiled. It was a workable position.
The next time Adam’s swung the pain stick, she intercepted it with her handcuffs.
GCPD handcuffs don’t have physical keys. Those were too easy to lose or replicate. Instead they were coded so that only an authorized GCPD law enforcement officer could remove them.
A licensed officer, or an overload of their circuits.
The handcuffs came loose and Ai rolled away from Adam’s reach with a speed and shakiness that would look like blind panic in the recording that Tython was going to see.
Careful to keep her every movement that of a rookie driven wild by pain, she slammed into her killer’s kneecaps, bringing him tumbling down on top of her.
The other cops were moving from confusion to laughter, not understanding quite what was going on, but amused to see one of their own suffer a silly looking spill.
The laughter began to die, the moment Ai grabbed her gun back.
Her killer had taken it from her and stuffed it into a pocket, assuming it was an inert hunk of metal. Proper procedure called for the weapon of any officer being arrested to shut down remotely before the arresting officers arrived. The order had gone out, but it had been easy for Zai to erase it and make it look like the sloppily executed arrest order had failed to generate the automated shutdown message.
Ai kept moving, not needing to feign the shaky weakness in her limbs for the camera’s benefit.
Like he was locked into the script she’d written, she saw Adams charge after her, ready to put her down with more pain stick blows. Then he saw that she had her gun. It should have been an oddly shaped paper weight, but his eyes lit up with fear and he went for his own.
The other officers were caught between laughing, if they weren’t paying attention closely enough, or starting to go for their own guns, if they were.
Ai scrambled to her feet, bringing her weapon flush against Adams’ head.
With her perception accelerated to the utmost he stood over her like a statue. She couldn’t move faster than him, and certainly couldn’t move faster than the bullets that were going to be fired within the next few seconds.
She could only think, and consider her actions.
Adams couldn’t escape whatever she chose to do to him. He was, in that single moment of time, helpless before her, and that argued for mercy,
Her father had been clear on that. A good cop didn’t use any more force than was necessary. Ai had stun rounds available. They would disable Adams long enough for the rest of her plan to play out. No one had to die.
There wasn’t any option for Officer Greensmith to leave the rooftop alive. She had to be removed as a threat, or Tython would have the lead it needed. That wouldn’t just endanger Harp either. Tython would go after her landlord Agatha because she knew Ai. They would go after her mother and sister despite them being across the Atlantic and in the nigh-unlivable environs of the London Exclusion Zone. They would go after everyone who shared any contact with Ai, and while that wasn’t a long list, it would be enough for them to turn up Zai.
That was what Adams was going to take away from her.
Just like he’d taken her father. And her brother.
Ai couldn’t keep the glimmer of rage from her eyes.
When she pulled the trigger, her gun wasn’t slotted with Stun rounds. The bullet that was fired was an Obliterator.
Adams’ head vaporized before her as the blast radius from the Obliterator round reduced his cranium to a wet spray of particles and the pulse charge fried every bio-mod in his body.
There was nothing in him left to perform any recovery work and nothing left to be recovered.
The explosion of the Obliterator round bought her a fraction of a second and she used it to move, fleeing away and watching Adams’ headless corpse fall without looking behind herself.
Not that she needed to look to see where she was going. She knew exactly how far the edge of the building was, and exactly how fast she needed to be to make it there before it was too late.
She was ten steps away from the edge when the first bullet hit her. Her killer had fired it and Ai’s luck held. He’d been too shocked to switch to Obliterator rounds so it was just a normal bullet.
That didn’t mean it wasn’t a fatal blow though. Heart muscle does not enjoy being shredded by the fragments of a projectile that bounces off a nearby rib.
“Hold on!” Zai said. “We can deal with this!”
The next bullet was comparatively mild, striking her in the forearm and passing through without even shattering a bone. Ai felt her bio-mods marching through her body like tiny repair crews, ready to restore the areas that were damaged in no time.
That was impossible of course. By their nature, bio-mods can’t be felt anymore than white blood cells or bone marrow can be.
Ai stumbled back another two steps. It was so far to go to reach the edge and her head was spinning.
From the bullet that had clipped her in the temple and fractured her skull.
“I’m bringing the auto-transport up,” Zai said, showing an overlay on Ai’s vision of the flying craft that she’d suborned as a getaway vehicle.
“No,” Ai said. “Use it to break the fall, but not enough to keep me alive.”
“What? Are you delirious?” Zai asked.
“No,” Ai said. “This is the plan. We’re going to fall off the building and go splat.”
“They have to think I’m dead,” Ai said. “The only story that turns away Tython’s attention now is if Officer Greensmith winds up dead trying to escape. If I get out of here through any sort of fortunate coincidence or clever plan, they’ll know I was the one behind everything we’ve done.”
“But you can’t die! I won’t let you!” Zai said.
“They need to find a body,” Ai said. “They need to run down to the ground floor and see me dead for themselves. My body can’t disappear before the EMTs get there. It can’t disappear before there’s a positive confirmation of death by the coroner.”
“But I don’t want you to go,” Zai wailed.
“So don’t let me,” Ai said, making to the edge of the roof as another bullet punctured straight through her left lung. “I know this is going to be hard, but I need you to keep me in stasis. Wake me up as soon as I’ve been declared dead and no one will notice me missing.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Zai said.
“I believe in you,” Ai said and surrendered herself to gravity’s embrace.