Zai was using 90% of her processing power on the most critical task she’d ever undertaken. Trying, with the remaining 10%, to save Curtweather and fight two NME’s was more than a little challenging therefor.
Curtweather’s rescue was relatively simple. A green flash of the led on his weapon at the right moment told him that it was just as live as Ai’s had been. He’d jumped at the chance, grabbed the gun, shot three of his former comrades (non-fatally, which was unfortunate in Zai’s view), and then fled back down the stairs. All Zai had to do to give him enough of a head start was to lock the door behind him before the remaining cops could follow him.
Zai had a ticket flagged in her memory as a reminder to expose the initial arrest warrant as a fabrication. It would clear Ai’s name, posthumously, but more importantly, it would allow her to maneuver the GCPD into destroying the officers who were involved.
Well aside from Adams. He was already pretty thoroughly destroyed given the huge void where he’d once had a head and most of his shoulders.
Zai had another ticket with his name on it. That one was to make sure that his entire estate was liquidated and consumed by Heartless’s various enterprises. Then she would unearth as many of his shady dealings as she could, and make it look like he’d left information to rat them all out in the event of his demise. Zai couldn’t cause Adams any more direct harm so destroying his legacy would have to suffice. If that happened to leave people less trusting of including police in on criminal dealings then mission accomplished.
Those were tasks for the future though. Of more immediate concern were the two Gray League agents who Tython had decided to sacrifice to the NME transformation.
Or were they sacrifices?
Ai had been concerned that Tython was potentially close to completing their “Cure” for the NME transformation. People would pay exorbitant sums of money to be protected from the transformation themselves, but to be able to transform others and bring them back? That would be world conquering.
“What is happening to those guys?” Sidewalker asked. In one hand he held a gun that wasn’t going to be of any use against an NME. In the other he held a explosive chip the size of a credit card which packed the blasting power of a box of grenades. It also wasn’t going to be of any use against an NME.
“They are mid-transition NMEs,” Zai said through the Heartless robot interface.
Sidewalker shot each of them three times again. He threw the blasting card at them. The shots did damage and the blasting card did more. Unfortunately the only net result a second later was that the transformations increased in speed and the partial NMEs blinked to life from their mid-transformation quiessence.
“That only made them mad, didn’t it?” Sidewalker asked.
“We need to be on another building,” Zai said. Speaking through Heartless’s interface wasn’t difficult, and even with most of her attention elsewhere she had plenty left to evaluate the environment and their options. What she didn’t have was a lot of choices to pick from.
The restaurant wasn’t located in a particularly tall building. Jumping to the neighboring roofs was an impossibility for Heartless’s tourism bot, and unlikely for Sidewalker even with his combat class bio-mods.
That meant dropping down to street level was their only real option. The other Gray league agents would be waiting for them on the ground, but the real problem was that the NMEs would follow them.
If they tried to hide in the crowds, the crowds would die. If they tried to flee from the crowds, they’d be easier to find, and, depending on how well Tython had perfected their NME control scheme, the crowds would still suffer tremendous casualties.
Zai had been with Ai for long enough that the simple numerical calculation of “x lives lost with option 1” vs. “y lives lost with option 2” wasn’t sufficient to drive her to a decision.
“We need to go back into the restaurant,” she said.
Sidewalker cast her a confused glance, but absorbed the idea quickly.
“Can you call the cops?” Sidewalker asked. “Normally I’m not a fan of them showing up but in this case it’d be nice if there was someone else to shoot at than us.”
Zai laughed without letting it show on the Heartless bot. There were a number of police officers she would be delighted to put in na NME’s line of fire but instead she was actively suppressing the tourism bots automated distress call.
“Tython has significant inroads into the GCPD,” she said. “Any officers that show up are likely to be more guns firing at us.”
Sidewalker jumped back down into the hatch they’d climbed out of and Zai heard gunshots ring out. Echolocation put the cries of pain as being distant from the opening, which reassured her that Sidewalker had shot first and more accurately.
She dropped down into the building as the first NME began to move. One of the HVAC units on the rooftop tore away from its mooring on the building as the NME’s transformation continued pulling pieces of the cooling unit into the armored shell that surrounded the former Gray League agent.
In the hall below there was a Gray League agent spread out on the floor by the stairwell. Sidewalker was crouched in an open doorway and for a brief moment there weren’t any gunshots ringing out.
“Ten seconds until NME incursion,” Zai said, hating how limited speech was for conveying information but choosing to gamble that the Gray League agents who heard her words would understand the danger they were in as well and react accordingly.
Unfortunately, not all gambles pay off.
A Gray League agent used the sound of Heartless’s voice to locate the new arrival and popped off two deliberate shots before Sidewalker’s return fire forced the agent to duck back into the stairs.
Zai noticed that both shots had hit her center mass. The tourism bot wasn’t particularly well armored – they were expressly disallowed from doubling as combat units – so the bullets had both punched right through her robotic torso. Unlike a human however, the tourism bot had distributed control systems and could ignore a few trivial things like gaping holes through the center of their sternum.
“We all have to flee,” Zai said, advancing with loud footsteps down the hall towards the Gray League agents.
The agent took a chance on firing another pair of rounds off at her, but it proved to be a tactical mistake. Zai had moved in the hallway to allow Sidewalker a clear field of fire. The instant the Gray League agent stuck his head around the corner, a bullet from Sidewalker’s gun drilled a neat hole from the front of the agent’s cranium to the back.
Sidewalker didn’t wait for the agent to finish falling. He scooped up the Heartless bot that Zai was piloting and dashed over the toppling agent, diving down the stairs just as the first NME burst through the roof.
Zai was glad for her lack of a human endocrine system. Sidewalker had to deal with the complications of chemicals flooding his body, enhancing his flight or flight response at the cost of degrading his reasoning capabilities. To his credit, and as a testament to his experience, he didn’t seem to have lost too much awareness or cognitive capability, but Zai still saw the next agent before he did.
Tourism bots are not meant for combat. Tourism bots are also filled with valuable electronics. Tourists often take tourism bots to places in the city where they should not go. Those facts taken together explain the array of non-lethal weaponry high end tourism bots are equipped with.
That Zai could circumvent the manufacturer’s safety limitation on the charge applied by the Tourism bots palm taser was not the fault of the engineers who designed in. It was strictly against the warranty to make internal modifications to a rented tourism bot. Also, to turn any of the non-lethal weapon systems into something dangerous to humans would require the passcodes from the original equipment manufacturer in addition to a deep working knowledge of the bots schematics.
Zai didn’t feel good about electrocuting the Grey League agent who tried to ambush them around the corner of the stairs. She didn’t feel bad about it either though.
She could have used just enough charge to render him unconscious, but any combat mods could have remedied that condition before he hit the ground.
She could have used enough charge to kill the agent but an NME activation code would have been enough to resuscitate him in a form that was far more difficult to deal with.
So she set him on fire.
His bio-mods were capable of coping with an extreme amount of damage when measured on a human scale. Enough voltage to ignite a body made mostly of water however was also enough to cook the combat mods before they had a chance to either repair the agent or go haywire and transform into an NME.
“What the hell?” Sidewalker shouted, vaulting off the wall to get away from the flaming corpse that exploded beside him at Zai’s touch.
“No more NMEs,” Zai said. “Two is more than enough.”
The rest of the Gray League agents apparently received word that the NMEs were active and felt the same, because none were in evidence when Sidewalker and Zai reached the bottom floor.
“We’re right back with the same problem we had before,” Sidewalker said.
“No, it’s much worse now,” Zai said.
“Sewers this time?” Sidewalker asked.
“They’ve mined the hallway leading to the basement entrance,” Zai said.
“Are the mines enough to stop the NMEs?” Sidewalker asked.
“No,” Zai said. “They’re enough to render either of us disfunctional but they’ll barely scratch a fully transformed NME.”
Sidewalker was backing away from the stairs which the NMEs from the roof were tearing apart as they descended. He stepped past a window and Zai’s limited tactical algorithm kicked in.
She threw her right hand up, losing it in the process but deflecting the sniper shot that would have clipped Sidewalker in the temple. Without a word, he dropped below the sight line of the window and rolled to put a table between himself and the wall as well.
There were sniper rounds that could easily punch through a wall, a table, and kill the person behind both, but hitting someone in motion with those other defenses in play required better gear or skill than most standard mercenaries came equipped with, even ones on the scale of the Gray League.
“Any ideas?” Sidewalker asked, still in motion and angling to return fire at the sniper since that was the only part of their current problem set he was able to affect.
Zai ran a few simulations, dedicating the full 10% of her processing that she had available. Curtweather looked like he was a clever mastermind who’d managed to escape certain doom already thanks to her machinations. The illusion worked best if he wasn’t apprehended, but if Zai had to sacrifice someone, he was the prime candidate under the circumstances.
“Yes,” she said after reaching a conclusion that was roughly a thousand times riskier than she preferred. “Let’s hope this works.”
As the NMEs smashed into the room, she rose to meet them.
NMEs vary tremendously in capabilities. The only constants are their near indestructible nature and the guaranteed presence of multiple weapon systems.
The two who entered the main dining area were still in the process of transforming, as Zai had expected. Their weapon systems were adapted to that, scrounging wood and metal and cloth into their structure as they built and rebuilt their armor for the battle to come.
“If this doesn’t work in the next two seconds, run!” Zai said and walked directly between the two NMEs.
They tore her to shreds.
Bits of the Tourism bot were ripped off and incorporated into each of the NMEs, until, in less than a second, nothing remained of the mechanism Zai had been driving.
That’s when she tore into them.
“Thank you for giving me direct access to your code,” she said. “Now let’s see about that control mechanism shall we.”
Zai had never felt the urge to let out gales of evil laughter as much as she did when the walls protecting the NME’s control centers fell before her.
With just a few simple touches, the light in the NME’s eyes shifted and the destroyers were hers.