Ai stood at attention and waited. There were many responses she could have made to her Captain’s declaration, but silence seemed like the most fitting.
“Do you have any particular wording you’d prefer for your resignation?” Captain James asked.
Ai observed her and wondered how many new recruits had committed career suicide under Grace James’ baleful glare. She was an imposing woman. Older and broader in appearance than people in her position typically were, given the sort of bio-tech a police captain was infused with. Or should be infused with.
With the proper bio-tech cosmetics in play, no one need needed to look their actual age. At the extreme levels of integration it was difficult to even say what someone’s age truly was, but instances of that were few and far between given the costs involved. Most people aged and wore out as humans had for millennia but did so with fewer physical impairments or visible signs of the aging process at work.
In Grace James case though something had gone awry. Bio-tech could solve most physical and systemic problems in the human body, but not for everyone. Some people had extreme allergies to necessary elements in the implanted devices and nano-vehicles that insure the health of the general populace. Others had less severe reactions but couldn’t afford the higher end components required to avoid presence of the allergens in their health maintenance gear.
Being without the lower half of one’s body went well beyond a simple case of allergic response though.
Behind her desk, Captain Grace James sat not on a chair, but on a multi-tentacled throne of wires and tubes. If the office had been decorated in an blue and green theme, its owner would have made a passable sea witch.
Instead the ambiance was more slanted towards grays and harsh edges. No knick knacks, no memorabilia, no pictures. If a visitor left the Captain’s office with anything but an overwhelming sense of solid steel professionalism then they needed their input sensors inspected.
“No? Can’t think of anything?” Captain James asked.
“You asked if I had any words for a resignation letter,” Ai said, playing the role of a frightened yet defiant rookie. Her father had told her so many stories of how the department operated that she knew where the conversation was going to end from the moment she walked in the door. “I have no words because I will not be resigning.”
“You think you have a choice here?” Captain James said, staring at Ai with disbelief painted across her face.
“Resignation is always at the Officer’s discretion,” Ai said. “I’ve been reviewing the procedures manual since I left the hospital.”
“You lost a leg. That allows for a medical override,” Captain James said, a smile spreading across her face that didn’t match the intensity of her gaze.
The Big Eye in the Interrogation Room could detect subtle cues that signaled consciously false answers. Ai had no doubt whatsoever than Captain James was far more discerning. How much more discerning could be a long term problem, which meant for Ai the interview was less a matter of keeping her job and more an opportunity to assess a potential antagonist.
“The medical override only applies to decisions made during care, and only while the operating surgeon deems that the patient is sufficiently dispossessed of their senses due to the effect of strong spirits or anesthesia to decrease pain during or after the surgery,” Ai said, paraphrasing the relevant passage from the GCPD Core Procedures Manual. “Some of the rules are a bit out of date it seems.”
Getting someone drunk enough to perform surgery on them was something even the Rusties didn’t do anymore. Ai wasn’t sure if it had ever really been done given the untrustworthiness of pre-digital record keeping, but knowing human psychology she wouldn’t have bet against it.
“And the destroyed cruiser?” Captain James asked.
“The self-diagnostic from its onboard systems that I included with my preliminary report showed that the damage it sustained in the initial crash had rendered its repair cost higher than the replacement fee,” Ai said.
“You endangered your partner.”
“Our situation was a Red-1 level scenario,” Ai said. “Life expectancy against an active NME averages less than ten seconds.”
“And your actions bought the two of you at least an additional minute.” The Captain eased back onto her throne and rolled her eyes. “And may have helped trigger the cascade failure the NME experienced.”
“I can’t speak to that,” Ai said. “Forensics is still retrieving material from the scene.”
“Which will go in a large bin labeled ‘we have no idea how this could have happened but we’re sure it’ll never occur again’,” Captain James said.
“Official reports claim that researchers are close to a breakthrough,” Ai said, remaining at attention.
“You know what ‘close to a breakthrough’ means?”
“That they’re not there yet?” Ai guessed.
“Not there and not even close enough to guess at what it might be,” Captain James said. “Which brings us back to you. You survived an encounter with an NME. There aren’t many on the force that can say that. The question you should ask yourself is do you think you can do it again?”
Ai twitched at her in surprise.
Her father’s descriptions of a rough after-action debriefing had highlighted how much the Captains were tasked with weeding out the people who weren’t fit to serve. If an officer broke during their first debriefing then there was no chance they would hold up through the years of constant stress and spikes of terror that defined a career in the GCPD.
Ai knew to avoid that pitfall. What she hadn’t expected was the concern and desperation that lay under the pressure.
Captain James wasn’t trying hard at all to push Ai out. She’d started with the topic of a resignation to test the waters. If Ai had stammered or been unsure in any sense, she knew Captain James would have been on her like a shark on a bloody steak. James wanted her to leave if she was going to break, but if not, if Ai could hold things together, then James wasn’t about to throw away as good officer. Or even one that just got lucky.
“NME attacks are few and far between enough, I’m guessing it’s not likely that I would have to worry about it,” Ai said. “But I think I could, if I got very luck again.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Captain James said. “If you meet an NME again it’s because you’re luck has run out. That happens? Find a good way to die.”
“Does that mean I’ll be remaining on the force, Captain?” Ai asked.
“If you’re not going to resign then I suppose you are,” Captain James said. “I want your full report submitted by end of day today and the final report a week from now.”
“What if it takes forensics longer to close their review than a week? I thought they were pretty backed up,” Ai asked.
“They are, and they always will be. Find something that will motivate them. There’s no extension for this,” Captain James said.
Of course there wouldn’t be. The news feeds would cycle over to slamming the department a week after the event. Or rather more of them would. Some were ahead of the curve and had already started criticizing the department for failing to prevent two simultaneous attacks, despite the impossibility of even predicting such a thing could have occurred.
Ai found Curtweather returning from his own debriefing with a sour look on his face.
“You’re still here?” he asked.
“Sure,” Ai said. “I just blamed everything on you.”
Curtweather pulled up to stop, looked at Ai, and shook his head.
“Nah, you’re not that smart,” he said and started walking again.
“Observation: blaming partner will get me out of trouble,” Ai said as though recording a voice note for herself.
“It will also get you on my bad side, you don’t want to be there,” Curtweather said.
“Where are we going now?” Ai asked. “I haven’t seen any new orders from Dispatch yet.”
“They also haven’t canceled the old ones yet,” Curtweather said.
“The ones for the Tython break-in?” Ai asked.
“I thought we were too late for that?”
“We are. Much too late,” Curtweather said. “But if Tython didn’t think to put a stop command on their alarm then we can still claim the service fee.”
“No fine for me then?” Ai asked.
“There’s a downside to every plan,” Curtweather said.
Another cruiser awaited them in the motor pool. The one they’d requested for transport back to the station was a deputized civilian model; none of the perks that came with an official cruiser at twice the going rate! The only thing it had going for it was availability and even that was unreliable.
Ai registered with the new, and official, cruiser, letting Zai handle the click through licensing agreements, while Ai dug around looking for more information on the NME attacks.
The timing had been conveniently coincidental with the break-in. That was fortunate for the thieves since it took attention away the alarms when resources could have been scrambled in time to catch them. On a broader level though it also established a connection between the break-in and the still unknown source of the NME eruptions.
That bothered Ai. Tython wasn’t supposed to be connected to the NMEs. Not via any direct channels. Either there was a much deeper connection there or someone was trying to forge a chain of evidence where one didn’t exist.
“You want to drive this time?” Curtweather asked.
“Worried about signing the personal liability form?” Ai asked.
“Maybe this is a test,” Curtweather said.
It wasn’t. Ai knew Curtweather’s accounts weren’t at risk either. He could handle a full replacement claim if he needed to. But that would raise its own set of questions, and with 80% of his holdings coming from “non-official” sources, he was justifiably concerned about losing another cruiser any time soon.
“Let’s hope I pass then,” Ai said, happy to be behind the wheel.
With proper certification some people were still allowed partial control over the mechanical aspects of driving a car. Ai had never understood where the joy in that lay. Sure, on a track or a race course driving could be fun, but on city streets? Only a masochist liked the constant need to pay attention to the flow of traffic and pedestrians. The moment she and Curtweather were buckled in, Ai turned over control of the cruiser to its onboard systems and gave it the Tython building’s address to navigate to. That gave her time to plan a dinner appointment and call up details on the Tython site from the official records.
They were halfway to the building when the first preliminary reports came in.
“Wait, this can’t be right, can it?” she asked, flicking the virtual report sheet over to Curtweather.
He took a long moment reading it, long enough that Ai was able to check the live video feed to confirm what the report said.
“Well that explains why they haven’t canceled the alarm yet,” Curtweather said, looking up from the report.
The live feed showed a building that was partially aflame on its lower floors. Most of the attention from the various onlookers though was centered around the top floor where the bullet proof glass of the windows was acting as a formidable defense for the hostage takers who had corralled the building’s relatively sparse staff into a single room and were using hand written signs to communicate with the outside world.
“Those have to be the stupidest thieves I’ve ever seen,” Curthweather said. “And believe me that’s making it to the top position on a very long list.”
Ai couldn’t stop staring at the scene. Flames rapidly devouring the lower floors and spreading just like flame loves to do. Hostage takers above the flames with dozens of innocents in danger and their demands were for a getaway car (which they couldn’t possibly reach) and two dozen Saucy Sally’s Pizzas (which no one could possibly deliver to them).
“I really shouldn’t have hired those guys should I?” she thought.
“At least it was only half up front,” Zai offered.