Ai woke feeling light, unconcerned, and very tired. Each of sensation was an effect of a different chemical in the cocktail of drugs that Zai was administering to her through the Cognitive Partner shell that was supposed to take care for her medical well being.
“Vacation’s over buttercup,” Curtweather said.
If Zai could have medicated him away, Ai would have been tempted to indulge in whatever drugs were required to make it happen. Instead she let her eyelids open slowly and tried to take in room around her.
Dull walls that were once white but had faded to a sickly yellow. Just enough space in the room for the bed she was lying on, and a couple of chairs. In the place of a door there was a curtain that had been drawn to close off the entryway.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“You’re lucky, you’re in a medi-mart,” Curtweather said.
“Lucky people don’t wind up in hospitals,” Ai said, slurring the words a little as the anesthesia drained out of her system. Zai could have brought her to full wakefulness, but she still needed time to heal and the fatigue was an effective method of communicating that.
“When the alternative is landing in the morgue?” Curtweather said. “Then yes, making it to a hospital room is where lucky people wind up.”
Ai pushed herself up in bed to a sitting position. To her relief, both of her legs appeared to be present.
“What happened?” she asked.
“You disobeyed orders and got your left leg blown clean off,” Curtweather said.
“Sounds like some bad luck to me,” Ai said.
“NMEs don’t go for leg shots,” Curtweather said. “The plasma bolt that hit you should have vaporized your head.”
“I guess I was moving around too much.” Ai said.
“Nope it was pure luck. The things tracking system was on the fritz. Turns out going berserk wasn’t the only bug in that NMEs systems. The walking dumpster heap couldn’t shoot straight or repair itself properly.”
“What does that mean?” Ai asked, wondering how the GCPD were going to play the event. Anything from “Heroic Rookie Cop Risks Own Life to Stop NME Menace!” to “Loose Cannon Maverick Pays the Price for Her Arrogance.”
“It means the only reason the thing didn’t kill you was that it was in the process of dying already,” Curtweather said. “All you had to do was stay still for another sixty seconds and we would have been safe.”
“It could have targeted the civilians though,” Ai said, massaging the numb area of her leg where her bio-tech was busy reconnecting and regrowing the bone and tissue that had been lost to the plasma beam.
Most of the work had already been done.
“I followed the standard recovery protocol,” Zai said inside Ai’s mind. “You’ll be good to walk on the leg in another few minutes, but no strenuous activity for at least six hours.”
“Nice work there,” Ai said. “What sort of scarring am I looking at?”
“Grade 3,” Zai said. “You’ll be getting cosmetic flesh shaping advertisements for the next few months. I can reduce the scar tissue faster than any of them could if you would like?”
“No, these are marks I should be treating like a badge of honor,” Ai said. “Being ‘injured in the line of duty’ gives me a story to tell next time we have to attend a social function.”
Ai blinked and swung her attention back to Curtweather.
“You’re going to have to learn how to set your priorities Greensmith,” Curtweather said. “For example, we missed the call for the Tython break-in thanks to your little stunt. The bill back penalty is being charged to your account.”
“It’s what?” Ai asked, weaving not-entirely feigned outrage into her voice.
“Want me to bounce the penalty back?” Zai asked. “The cruiser was damaged through no fault of yours. Curtweather should be the one billed for the delay according to the GCPD Standard Employment Contract.”
“Tempting, but we don’t want to draw too much attention to that break-in,” Ai said internally. “Let’s eat this one. Looking broke isn’t a bad thing for us at this point.”
“What happened to the civilians?” Ai asked aloud.
“One of them tried to loot you, but I chased her off,” Curtweather said. “The rest ran as soon as the NME fell apart.”
“Did Highfall ever show up?” Ai asked.
“Not for us, thank the lord of money,” Curtweather said. “They were still scrambling I guess but the Black Valkyries beat them to the fight on that other NME that you saw.”
“The Black Valkyries were there?”
Ai called up a info sheet from the city-wide newsfeed.
Based on the timing, the Valkyries had been in the area when the attacks started. They’d engaged the other NME sixty three seconds after the one Ai took out shut down. Their battle had lasted seven minutes and nine seconds, of which six minutes and forty one seconds had been spent clearing the battlefield of potential civilian casualties and leading the NME to an uninhabited block.
In an earlier age, the Black Valkyries would have been an urban myth. A quintet of warriors clad in armor and bearing weapons beyond the likes of any available to the world at large. They showed up when trouble arose, protected people, vanquished the monster in question and then disappeared without asking for thanks or payment.
As much as the public was terrified of the threat the NMEs posed, they were equally in love with the Valkyries. Thirty years ago, when the first bio-tech plague had nearly wiped out the world, there hadn’t been anyone like the Valkyries to stand against the monsters that emerged. For as much as the world seemed to be teetering on the brink of another melt down, the Valkyries gave people hope. Knowing that there was one group of good guys out there suggested that there had to be others, and that if things got back enough there was someone who could come and save the terrified masses from the techno-predators that were set to drive them into extinction.
In Ai’s case, her hopes were slightly different from the rest of the population. She embraced the hope that she hoped she wasn’t going to have to move against the Valkyries at any point. Conflict with the mysterious heroes didn’t seem likely, the Black Valkyries were a useful resource if nothing else, but there was enough hidden about them that Ai couldn’t quite trust their intentions.
“You’ve lain around long enough,” Curtweather said. “Time to get back to the station and enter our reports in.”
“Is this going to be in front of the Big Eye?” Ai asked.
The Big Eye was one of the departments more unique features. With improvements to bio-tech, the need for a giant apparatus to remotely measure vital signs and monitor micro-expressions had passed away. The GCPD still kept a few around though. The story was that the intimidation value of seeing a giant all-seeing eye hovering over you tended to loosen the tongues of recalcitrant individuals. In practice was just creepy and tended to jangle up the vitals in whoever it was supposed to be monitoring so that everyone looked like a criminal. That may have made arrests easier to justify but it rankled Ai as sloppy and unprofessional.
That the Eye was likely to validate whatever reprimand they chose to throw at her wasn’t her chief concern but it did place the Eye on the list of things to demolish as time permitted.
“No, you get to report to Captain James directly, she loves chewing up newbies who make stupid rookie mistakes,” Curtweather said,
Ai sighed and slipped off the recovery bed. Her bio-tech was in proper working order and the bill for the leg re-attachment service had already passed through GCPD insurance and landed in her account.
“It seems unfair to pay that one given that I did all actual work,” Zai said.
“Well worth the money to keep your privacy intact,” Ai said internally, and shooed Curtweather out of the room so she could get dressed.
She found her belongings in a sealed case mounted to the wall. There was a recovery fee linked to the lock. She paid it in the interest of expediency. Inside were her police issued uniform, including a repaired set of ballistic armored pants and her regulation side arm.
“Zai, are there any personnel here?” Ai asked.
“This medi-shop has a staff of six,” Zai said.
“Did any of them help with my transport or was it all automated?” Ai asked.
“One of the orderlies helped carry you in and corrected the repair arms when they froze up,” Zai said.
“Are they still around?” Ai asked.
“Yes, they’re still on duty for two more hours,” Zai said.
“Glitch the payment system for the personal effects box then and recall the funds we transferred.”
Ai exited the small room and found herself in the lobby of the medi-shop. There were nine other service rooms, all empty in the small storefront operation.
With the advent of cheap bio-tech, the big hospitals of yesteryear had given way to cheap bio-tech repair centers and the exclusive full-service medical resorts the wealthy enjoyed access to.
“Ready to go?” Curtweather asked.
“One second,” Ai said, spying her target emerging from one of the empty service rooms.
“Excuse me, are you an employee here?,” she asked, catching the orderlies attention. The woman was old, and not especially well off given how few cosmetic alterations her bio-tech provided.
“Take any billing complaints up with the head office,” the woman said.
“It’s not a complaint,” Ai said. “The box with my belongings popped open when I went to pay.”
“That’s what they usually do,” the woman said.
“Except it didn’t take my payment,” Ai said. “So I was wondering if I deposit the money through you?”
“Why?” the woman asked.
“Because I know how flakey hospitals can be,” Ai said.. “If your parent corp doesn’t get their money, they’ll put a blacklist on my account, and I don’t have the money to get that removed.”
“You’re a cop though?” the woman asked.
“I am but they don’t let us shoot the kind of people I’d need to if I wanted to get a medi-corp off my back.”
It was a joke but both Ai and the woman exchanged a longing look for homicide to be a viable alternative in that case. With a nod, Ai transferred the fee into Khalindi Sensivana’s account with a little extra added as a ‘Service Fee’.
“And the plan here is what exactly?” Zai asked
“Always good to have friendly contacts in unexpected places,” Ai said.
“What if she pockets the whole fee?” Zai asked.
“Then I’ve got a little bit of corruption to hold over her,” Ai said. “That’s almost better than a friend.”
The trip back to the station was free of any more NME attacks. No surprise there, berserk bio-monsters didn’t appear that frequently.
Ai spent the trip back pretending to listen to Curtweather’s deliberately horrible advice on how to approach her first after-incident report to their Captain. With her spare attention, she scoured the news feeds looking for references to herself in the reports on the NME attack, and any data she could collect on the Black Valkyries.
They were a mystery to everyone else, but that didn’t mean they had to be a mystery to her.
Ai was in the middle of parsing a report on the incident she’d been a part of, diving ever deeper into the fragmentary details that should have identified the woman who’d held her when she was injured when Curtweather jostled her shoulder.
“Get your head off the net, rookie, we’re here.”
In front of them a door with the words “Captain Grace James – GCPD Division 15” stood like the gate to a unique sort of hell.
“Greensmith, in. Curtweather, report to the Eye.” a heavy voice from inside the room said.
Ai entered as instructed and found her Captain waiting for her with a dour expression.
“Less than a week on the payroll and you’ve trashed one of our cruisers and hit our insurance with a major traumatic injury claim. Let’s talk about the wording on your resignation letter shall we?”