No one in the right mind wanted to tangle with a rampaging NME. At least not without time to think it over and make some plans. Sidewalker’s crew didn’t sign up for the mission that Ai had in mind therefor.
But they didn’t turn it down either.
Once dinner was finished they departed, scurrying back to whatever sanctuary they had that was off the grid and unmonitored. Ai knew where they dropped out of sight of the Gamma City camera network but she respected Sidewalker’s intelligence enough to know that their base was probably nowhere near that area.
Instead of pursuing their secrets, she de-linked from the Tourist bot controls and let her awareness return to her non-virtual body. The Tourist bot would return to its central base unless someone else rented it first. If they did they would find the bot in an unremarkable state, it’s storage banks reset as per standard procedure. If they were clever, and for some reason interested, they could dive into the secure backups of the bot’s sensory experiences to see what it had been up to during its past rentals.
Anyone that talented would find an incredibly boring mockup of a tour through some of the Gamma City’s least interesting parks. Pulling the mockup apart would reveal the “real” data which would showcase an illegal weapons transaction between a trio of difficult to identify individuals.
The actual data related to Ai’s meeting with Sidewalker’s crew was so thoroughly purged that not even a nano-probe of the physical substrate of the robot’s onboard storage could recall it.
Ai knew she was safe from discovery via data traces but that was far from the only path that could lead someone to her door. She’d done what she could though, and had alerts and alarms in place to cover any slipups. Even with that she had the sense of living on borrowed time, but then, everyone was.
Her can of fake pasta had grown cold waiting for her to finish her discussion with Sidewalker but she didn’t bother reheating it. Cold and soggy pasta wasn’t on anyone’s list of favorite foods but Ai had an occasional fondness for it.
Also reheating it would have meant walking more and despite her leg being successfully reattached, it was still profoundly sore. Zai could have dealt with that, but she was in a deep data dive, searching for signs of the next NME rampage.
Knowing that Tython had some connection to them, however tenuous it might be, was a starting point they couldn’t pass up.
Ai considered drifting down into a full dive of the net too in order to help Zai poke around for information but a knock on her door interrupted her.
“Hello?” she said, without rising. Her apartment didn’t have the best of security systems, but it was equipped with a door camera so that she could answer from anywhere inside the small unit.
“You decent?” Agatha Dewers, her landlady asked.
Agatha was one hundred and forty and she wore every year as a badge of honor. Unlike most property holders she lived in the building that she managed and that was the reason Ai had selected it as her physical abode.
“As decent as you are,” Ai called back and signaled the door to unlock and open.
“You aren’t old enough to be as wicked as I am,” Agatha said.
She entered carrying a plasti-ceramic pot filled with a homemade curry that people would be willing to start wars over if she shared it with anyone except her favorite tennants.
“You haven’t had dinner already have you?” Agatha asked, looking at the half eaten can of fake pasta on the table Ai was sitting at.
Without looking at it, Ai swept the can off into her garbage and said “Nope. Haven’t had a thing.”
“Get some plates then,” Agatha said.
Ai did as instructed, pulling a pair undecorated plastic circles from her washing machine.
“This food’s too good for anything I have here,” Ai said.
“This isn’t anything special,” Agatha said.
“You don’t eat out enough if you think that’s true,” Ai said.
“Or you eat out too much,” Agatha said and spooned some rice onto Ai’s plate.
Ai felt like she should object to Agatha treating her like a child but given that Agatha had more than century on her, and that she was entirely correct about Ai eating out too much, it was hard to put up much of a fight.
Also, the less Ai complained the sooner she could dive into the curry.
“You don’t have to do this you know,” Ai said a little while later as she started on her second plate.
“Oh? You’re going to start cooking too then?” Agatha asked.
“I could never make food this good,” Ai said.
“Sure you could. Just takes practice.”
“Don’t have a lot of time for that,” Ai said. “Work keeps me pretty busy.”
“Yeah, that’s what you’re father always said too. Thought you were smarter than that though.”
The other reason Ai lived where she did was that she’d known Agatha since she was old enough to put names to people’s faces.
“I thought I was too,” Ai said. “Somethings just run in the family though I guess.”
“Being alone doesn’t though,” Agatha said.
“I’m not alone,” Ai said. “I’ve got you.”
“What you need is someone to share the rent with,” Agatha said. “I know what they pay you rookie cops.”
“I can afford this place just fine,” Ai said. “I told you, my dad left me some money. And so did Joe Jr.”
“I don’t want to take any of their money,” Agatha said. “That’s money for you to get out of this city with.”
“Hard to do my job if I’m out of my jurisdiction,” Ai said.
It was a discussion they’d have enough times that it couldn’t even be called a debate anymore. While they shared no particular blood relations, Agatha had always been a grandmother for Ai. She’s been the same for her father when he was young, and for one of Ai’s grandmother’s too.
Ai wasn’t sure how many families Agatha had ‘adopted’ after the Robo-apocalypse, but with Ai’s grandparent’s generation taking such heavy losses it wasn’t uncommon for the long lived to accumulate stray ‘family members’ who had no one else to look to. The upside of that was that Ai got home cooked food that beat anything on the menu of the city’s fanciest restaurants. The downside was listening to Agatha poke and prod her about a personal life that was far more spartan than it should have been.
“Still think it’s crazy for you to have a jurisdiction,” Agatha said. “That badge didn’t do your family any favors, and I don’t think it’s going to do you any either.”
It was arguably tactless for Agatha to bring up Ai’s father and brother so bluntly, but the truth was that she’d known them as well or better than Ai had.
As a girl, Ai had traveled back and forth between Gamma City where her father lived and worked, and the London Clear Zone where her mother hailed from. Agatha had known Joe Senior and Joe Junior for all of their lives but Ai had only known them half time up until the point when she reached adulthood.
With her 18th birthday came her independent declaration of citizenship and the travel tariffs that cut down on her ability to see both sides of her family. While declaring her nationality had been a painful choice it had also been an easy one.
Ai couldn’t live in London full time. The nanocloud there was too hostile to survive long term for a foreigner. To hostile to survive if you lacked an investment in intrusive bio-mods that neither of her parents wished to subject their eldest daughter to.
Her younger sister Cara was in the opposite boat. Born in the LCZ, she’d required full body mods from the time she took her first breath and London’s nanocloud was the only place in the world she really could live.
“You ever going to get any real furniture for this place?” Agatha asked, nodding towards the back corner of the room where Ai had set up the small bed and nightstand.
“I said I could afford the place, I didn’t say I could furnish it,” Ai said.
“That’s no good, I’ll send you down some stuff I don’t need anymore. A bigger bed to start,” Agatha said.
“I’m good with what I’ve got,” Ai said. “I’m not here for much beside sleep, and that’s just going to get worse when I get a promotion of Full Patrol Officer.”
“You get days off don’t you?” Agatha said.
“Yeah, but I’m on the net most of the time when I’m off duty,” Ai said.
It wasn’t a lie, and since most people with Cognitive Partners had entertainment beamed directly into their heads it wasn’t the kind of claim that would raise many questions. That was good since most of the time Ai spent on the net was in pursuit of the kind of power only restricted information could offer.
“You should come up and play cards sometime,” Agatha said. “Can’t have your head in the cloud all the time.”
Thanks to Zai, that wasn’t entirely true for Ai but since Zai was one of Ai’s deeper secrets it wasn’t a claim Ai felt she needed to counter.
“I wouldn’t want to interrupt any of your hot dates,” Ai said, trying to turn the tables.
Agatha however was not easily embarrassed.
“No worry about that. I’m only sleeping with three people this week.”
“All on the same night?”
“No, I space them out, makes for a more interesting week.”
There was a chance that Agatha was teasing Ai, but Ai suspected she was telling the exact and unvarnished truth.
“Why don’t you ever bring one of them around?” Ai asked.
“You think it’s the same ones every week?” Agatha asked. “The city’s not the small.”
“It’s your cooking isn’t it?” Ai asked. “That’s the secret that brings them all in.”
“Cooking? No that’s for after,” Agatha said. “If you want them to come back. Haven’t you figured out yet how to reel in a lover yet? You just use your mouth…and say Hi.”
Ai groaned and rolled her eyes. It was classic Agatha advice, in that it clearly worked, but only if you had a century of experience practicing at it.
Ai knew she was lacking in that department due to her age, and she didn’t see herself catching up at any point in the future.
She had too much to do with leading her double life. Even with Zai’s help, weaving a web to tear down the city wasn’t so much a hobby as a calling.
Her father had been a good cop. Crooked. Corrupt. Bribe taking and protection selling, but he’d had a sense of honor. Ai had known about his courage and conviction from growing up with him. She’d learned about the dishonest things he did when she first started researching his death and they had thrown her, but only for a while. Delving deeper she’d discovered that the story of Joseph Greensmith Senior was a more complicated one than she’d understood as a child, but that in many senses he was good man that she believed him to be.
It had been that goodness that go him killed when he tried to investigate some truly dark and twisted things his fellow officers were doing.
By comparison, Joseph Junior, her brother, had been on the job long enough to become a good cop. He’d been an angry one, he’d been a foolish one, and then, he was a dead one.
Everyone was surprised when Ai decided to follow in their footsteps. The men responsible for her father’s murder had paid attention to her while she worked through her police training, and when she’d landed her assignment.
They’d watched her and she’d ignored them.
She wasn’t her brother. She wasn’t going to pursue them with blood in her eyes and vengeance burning in her heart.
It wasn’t enough to kill them. It wasn’t even enough to destroy them, and leave them miserable wrecks cringing in the gutter.
That would happen, but more was required.
Destroying those men would only open the door to others. That was what the system in Gamma City did. It molded people into the darkest images of themselves.
Ai knew that it was molding her into something dangerous and terrible too. She was working to dig up an NME and that was certain to cause chaos and likely to cost people their lives. As long as they were people who deserved it though, and as long as it picked away at the threads the city was woven from, Ai found that she was perfectly ok with that.