George Curtweather had found the deepest hole in the darkest pit that he knew of and was still sure it wasn’t going to be deep enough or dark enough to keep him safe. No matter how low he crawled or how deep he hid, there would still be someone who would find him. After what happened on that rooftop, he was sure of that.
And he was right.
“As undercover operations go, I think you’re taking this one a bit too literally,” Ai said as she holstered her official sidearm.
“You?” Curtweather had been resigned to his fate. He had no idea what he’d done to aggravate one of the megacorps, and no idea why he was on the bad side of a group of cops like Adams’ crew, but he knew how things turned out when either of those scenarios came into play and it was never pleasant for the person in his position. He just hoped they would be in a rush when they found him so that they’d make it quick. Seeing a ghost though? That he wasn’t ready for.
“Yep. Me,” Ai said. “Come on, get up, you’re late for work. About two weeks late in fact.”
Curtweather wanted to answer but his throat had frozen shut. He’d seen a lot of things in his time on the force. Most of them weren’t all that good and some of he’d spent a considerable amount of time trying to drown in whatever alcohol was handy so that he’d never need to remember them again. Meeting the walking dead however was something none of his previous experiences had prepared him for.
“Don’t tell me it’s too comfortable there to get up,” Ai said, glancing over Curtweather’s squalid abode.
In the lowest levels of the sewer network that run under Gamma City there were small alcoves that had been setup when the sewers were being constructed. They served as storage depots for tools and supplies needed for repairs, or at least they had until they’d been picked clean by scavengers, human or otherwise.
Those that were still useful had been sealed under lock and key and left defended by the sort of lethal systems that spoke clearly to the lack of value the people who installed them saw in the people they were trying to keep out. There was nothing important within the alcoves, and from their owners point of view the same was true of the people who tried to use them for refuge against the hostile environment.
The only alcoves which didn’t have deadly security guarding them were the deep ones which had been rendered toxic by virtue of the chemicals that were stored within them, or the mold which had overtaken the area.
Curtweather’s alcove had the distinction of holding both highly toxic chemicals and deadly molds. To make the environ even better, the molds were trying (and partially succeeding) to dissolve the containers the chemicals were stored in. No human could have survived for a day in his makeshift hovel, but like much of the rest of the world, George Curtweather was no longer fully human.
“Go away,” he said. “You’re not here. You’re dead. Just a figment of these chips in my head.”
Ai kicked him in the leg.
“You sure I’m not here?” she asked.
“What the hell!” He scrambled back away from her but his gaze changed, meeting hers rather than looking anywhere but there.
“I’m not dead you idiot,” she said. “And I’m not intending to wait down here much longer.”
“I saw them shoot you!” he said. “Your head exploded!”
“Try again,” Ai said. “You’re mixing up memories there. Think back to the rooftop. I was shot, yes, but it was Adams whose head turned into confetti when I shot him. It looks like you’ve taken the transformation so it should be easy to step right back into the moment with perfect clarity. Just let your partner help you.”
“I don’t want your help,” Curtweather said.
Ai rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Not me. Your digital partner,” Ai said. “You know, the voice you hear in your head telling you to stop being an idiot.”
“I stopped listening to that. It was telling me all kinds of crazy stuff, and I don’t want to be crazy,” Curtweather said.
“You’re not mentally ill,” Ai said. “Your digital partner is part of the transformation. They’ve been trying to get you out of here for over a week now.”
“I don’t need to leave here,” Curtweather said. “It’s safe here. I’ll go out when I’m hungry.”
“It’s been two weeks since you crawled down here,” Ai said. “You’re not hungry because you’re not going to get hungry. Ever. Your body can synthesize most of what it needs at this point, and for the foreseeable future it can convert the gunk you’re surrounded by to the bits it can’t make directly.”
“That’s not right,” Curtweather said. “I can still eat. I’ve been having food bars since I got down here.”
Ai paused for a moment, a look of confusion briefly passing over her face before she sighed again.
“You really haven’t been talking to your partner have you?” she asked. “You were delirious when the transformation arrived. Your partner put you back together and used the materials at hand to do it. The food bars you ate? Those were handfuls of the mold and sewage you see around you.”
“That’s…that’s not possible,” Curtweather said.
“They’re apologizing now, aren’t they?” Ai asked. “Really it should be the other way around though. You didn’t give them much to work with. Check your organ readouts. I’ll bet they had to generate a few extra livers to convert the garbage they had to work with.”
Curtweather was silent for a long moment, his attention turned inwards, as he reviewed the stats on his biomods. In the end, he sagged back against the wall, the fear leaving him as disbelief warred with his growing understanding of his condition.
“What happened to me?” he asked finally, more subdued than Ai had ever heard him.
“You changed,” she said. “Just like the rest of the world.”
“Ok, so what am I now?” he asked.
“An ass,” she said. “So, it wasn’t that big of a change really.”
That cracked a smile onto his face.
“You’re really not dead, Greensmith?” he asked.
“Really not,” she said. “At least not anymore. It was a little touch and go there for a bit but things worked out.”
“I guess they did,” he said. “You’re right too. I can remember the rooftop. Just like I was there. Can’t believe you could have survived that but you did go over this side with your head intact. And you punched Adams’ ticket good. Glad he was one to bite it and not you. Never liked that guy. How’d you survive? Grabbed a ledge or something.”
“An air taxi,” Ai said. “With my head. Then I hit the concrete. It was less fun than that description make it sound though.”
“And you’re sure you’re not a ghost?” Curtweather asked.
“I can kick you again if you want?” Ai asked.
“No, that’ll be ok,” Curtweather said. “You don’t hold back at all do you?”
“You’ve got the Omnigrade,” she said. “It’s not like I was going to damage you.”
“I don’t get it though, why are you here?” he asked, shifting to a proper sitting position.
“Like I said, you’re late for work.”
“What work?” Curtweather asked. “Last I checked there was a whole bunch of our coworkers who were pretty focused on putting large holes in places I don’t need any more holes.”
“They’re…” Ai searched for the right euphemism, “on permanent leave.”
“Right before the Omnigrade rolled out, three hundred and twenty four of our fellow officers kind of disappeared,” Ai said. “They’re still turning up in various places around the world, not all that much worse for the wear except for one thing. None of them have the Omnigrade. They all seem to be locked out of receiving it. It’s a tragedy, all of them being stuck in old tech like that. And clearly unfit for duty anymore.”
“Three hundred and twenty four?” Curtweather asked. “That’s a lot of cops to go missing. And they were scattered around the world. What happened to the cops in Alpha city? Or other places?”
“Nothing noteworthy,” Ai said. “They got the upgrade the same as everyone else.”
Curtweather eyed her suspiciously.
“So, only cops from Gamma were taken? And that just happened to include all the ones that tried to kill us?”
“Yeah, kinda funny really,” she said. “Someone would probably look into that but the problem is that we’re really short staffed at the moment and, well, it’s probably better for a lot of them if they don’t come back here.”
“Oh? And why would that be?” Curtweather asked.
“There’s arrest warrants out for each of them,” Ai said. “Once the Medusa Cluster and the other digital intelligences were released a whole lot of new information came to light on the kind of things Tython, the other corps, and the GCPD have been up to.”
“The Medusa Cluster? Wait, is that one of the machine intelligences? One of those things got loose!” The tension was back in Curtweather’s spine.
“Eh, not just one. All of them,” Ai said.
“So, we’re all dead and this is machine hell then I take it?” he asked.
“Nope. No Robo-Apocalypse 2 for us. They’re not ruining the world because they need to live here too. Also, from what I gather, we’re kind of amusing to deal with. Like several billion puzzle boxes walking around on our own two legs,” Ai said. “Also our digital partners are there to reassure them that we won’t do anything phenomenally stupid like try to eradicate them.”
“Oh yeah, mine’s saying something about that too,” Curtweather said. “Apparently I’ve been all sorts of fun to research. Which I guess is good?”
“As long as their enjoying themselves I’d take it as A-Ok,” Ai said. “But you’ll probably still want a shower and shave soon. I suggest industrial strength detox gel and just burn the beard off. You can grow back the facial skin easier than you can fix that mess on your face.”
“Ha ha. I forgot how funny you weren’t,” Curtweather said, a familiar scowl settling on his face as he rose to his feet. “My partner here,” he tapped his head, “is bringing me up to speed though and it seems like you’re legit. Tython really isn’t hunting for us anymore?”
“Tython’s not exactly a ‘thing’ anymore,” Ai said. “It’s been shattered into two thousand and six subdivisions which were sold to various buyers in attempt to escape from the fiscal liability they entailed by being a part of the Omnigrade project.”
“Well good for them. What about the people who were giving the kill orders on us though?” Curtweather asked.
“They’re still out there,” Ai said. “Most don’t have the wealth or influence they did though, and all of them have bigger problems to worry about than two beat cops who got caught up in what went down through no fault of their own.”
“I still don’t know what all that was,” Curtweather said. “But I know someone was looking out for me. There’s no chance I got out of that hospital on my own. Too many things went right for me and too much went wrong for the people chasing me.”
“Must be nice to have a guardian angel,” Ai said.
“Be nicer if I knew whether they were still around,” Curtweather said.
“That’s easy to find out,” Ai said. “Just throw yourself into a life or death situation and see if you die or not.”
Curtweather stared at her for a tick, waiting for her to crack a smile for the joke. Another tick passed before he started to wonder if she was serious or not. Then he remembered how she’d driven an patrol car into an NME. She was definitely serious.
“I’ll take that under advisement,” he said.
“Good,” Ai said. “Take that plus a shower and then head into the precinct. The Captain’s got all kind of work that’s backing up and Dispatch needs as many of us as they can get to feed the cases out to.”
“Why me?” Curtweather asked.
“Because you’re a cop?” Ai said, a note of uncertainty coloring her voice.
“Not a great one,” Curtweather said. “Why did you come down here? Why not just leave me to rot and bring on some better guy for the job?”
“Couldn’t do that,” Ai said. “This whole change is about second chances. Maybe you don’t want to take yours. Maybe you want to stay down here where it’s safe and no one’s going to bother you. That’s your choice to make. I’m just here to make sure you know it’s a choice. Whatever you were before? That’s what you used to be. What you do next? That’s what you’re going to be, and you can always be better than what you were.”