I watched out the window into the well lit city streets. Even in the middle of the night, it was bright enough that people could see almost as well as they did in the day. Even the night’s sky tried to pretend it was day by hiding the stars in the haze of city lights reflecting off the smog. My enhanced vision wasn’t enough to pierce that blanket, but it did reveal a couple kids getting hot and heavy an alleyway.
Both were starting to divest each other of their club clothes, a process complicated by their blood-alcohol levels. I doubted either of them were legal age for drinking, and I knew they weren’t legal for the ecstasy in their systems. I should step in before one of them does someone they regret. “Hey, Bob. Hit the siren for a second, please.”
“See something?” Even as he asked, the whir of sirens started to warm up before being cut off. The pair, reminded of where they were and what they were doing, made their clothes as modest as was possible before retreating out the other side of the alley. I couldn’t help but notice they went separate ways on reaching the exit. Perhaps they’ll learn something valuable tonight.
I’d say people didn’t act like that when I was a kid, but I was a kid in the seventies. If anything, people were far more sedate now. “Just a couple kids and an unplanned pregnancy waiting to happen.”
“Ah, to be young and stupid again. Much better than being old and still stupid,” Roberto said. The man was ancient by beat cop standards, at well over fifty and about that much in extra pounds around the gut. In a smaller city, he would have likely been forced into retirement, but big cities liked to keep the older cops alongside young Imbued. It was an elegant system, having people like me to do the heavy part of being an officer, and the older to handle calls and paperwork. “So how are you liking your first week on the force?”
“Well, it’s a lot quieter than my last job,” I said before biting into the gas station beef jerky stick that passed as lunch. <Hey, Phoebe. While it’s on my mind, why does my diet now include ten times the healthy amount of salt for other people?>
“What were you doing before, that the New York PD is quiet?” Roberto kept his eyes on the road, but raised an eyebrow nonetheless.
<Don’t exaggerate. It’s only three times,> Phoebe responded back. It was the night shift here in the ‘states, but the colony ran on GMT just like the space station, so she was up. <It helps with the bioelectric conductivity, which ties into dozens of other systems. Why, you don’t like salty foods?>
“Oh, all kinds of things,” I said. “Recon, search and rescue. Got blown up by a terrorist. Got blown up again by the same terrorist. Not long after that, I decided it was high time to seek out a new line of work.” I left out the fact that it was because the job was over.
Meanwhile, I kept my conversation with Phoebe going; after a month I’d finally achieved some competency with the equipment. <Salty’s fine, I was just curious. You’re the expert, after all.> I considered picking up a few medical textbooks to study, but dismissed that as unnecessary; my equipment was superior to anything I could learn from a book. My slowly growing understanding of psychology, on the other hand, promised to be invaluable.
“Heh, that’s right, superpowers,” Roberto said. “I keep forgetting you have them. You act so normal compared to most Imbued.”
Never mind that he’s Hispanic and I’m masquerading as black again. The real racial divide is those with powers and those without. “Eh, I never wanted to be a superhero. Even as a kid, it was always cops and robbers for me. Little secret? I was always the robber.” It was a lie, tailored to appeal to the other officer’s sensibilities without making myself sound too uptight or fake. Much like my dealings with Shannon, I felt like a jackass. Unlike Shannon, Phoebe had not yet suggested I sleep with Roberto. A small favor I was quite thankful for.
“You think that’s bad?” Roberto offered a polite laugh, but the way his body language relaxed was genuine; I accomplished the goal I set out for. “I grew up thinking I’d be a lawyer. Before you go get the pichfork and torches, that was before I ever met one.”
I wonder how long it will be before Phoebe mentions all the death flags Roberto is setting up. Perhaps when he survives past the end of the mission, it will be a blow to her theory about us being in a story. <So, Phoebe, what do you know about cop movies?>
<Just don’t ask when he’s retiring or learn his wife’s name, and he’s safe.>
<I’ll keep that in mind.> I wasn’t inclined to learn more than I had to about him in the first place; this job was awkward enough already. “Imagine that. There’s a place in the world where kids grow up without ever once meeting a mosquito.”
“Oh come on, mosquitoes aren’t that bad,” Roberto said. He was about to say something else when dispatch interrupted.
“We have a possible domestic disturbance or B&E on Henry Street. A neighbor reports a suspicious individual seen entering the residence followed by a loud altercation with the home owner.” As the woman spoke through the choppy radio, all the important details went up on the computer screen in the car. What I wouldn’t have given for tech like this back during the Gulf.
“Henry Street? That’s a good neighborhood,” Roberto said. I kept my mouth shut; I was meant to be a rookie learning the ins and outs of the city, and revealing that I already knew could damage the illusion. “Means it’s either a busybody with too much time calling in a harmless spat, or it’s a crisis, and not a lot of middle ground.”
“Mind numbing tedium except for random points of pure terror? Sounds exactly like Iraq,” I said. “Don’t mind me, I want to charge up on the off chance it’s a worst case scenario.”
I flexed my hands as my forcefield put on a minor lightshow of blue and red lightning dancing across my skin. There was no mechanical function to the display, simply another layer of deception. Two primary colors suggesting I was somewhere in the Stage Two power range, with two or three powers ranging from a one to three; strong enough to be valuable, yet not powerful enough to put in the front lines against supervillains. In this case case, we were pretending I had to charge up my power, leaving me vulnerable to surprise attacks and harrassment tactics.
“Whatever you gotta do to keep us alive if things go south.” Roberto hit the sirens and the gas, bringing us to the neighborhood in question while I continued my best impression of a plasma lamp in the passenger seat.
I was out of the vehicle the moment it came to the stop. My lightshow had come to an end already, leaving me normal save for how I allowed myself to use a low level strength and speed boost to maintain the illusion. It seemed unlikely I’d be faced with intense scrutiny at this juncture, but there was no sense in carelessness. If nothing else, it was good practice.
<What are my stats at this setting?> I had learned some familiarity for the numbers being fed into my brain, but Phoebe still understood the details better than I.
<Reaction speed is point zero six seconds. Lifting capacity is at nine hundred and twelve kilos. You are too strong for a Brawler and Transit in the low two range. I recommend a twenty percent reduction in augments.> She hesitated for a moment. <But you’re getting better!>
<Thanks.> I looked into the house I was approaching. My enhanced perception was on record as well, though only as a Tracker 1.7, making me roughly as good as a trained drug dog rather than my inhuman senses. A man and woman were inside, the woman had recieved multiple blows to her face, neck and arms, and the man showed bruising and cuts to his knuckles. Other signs of struggle, such as scratches on the man’s face fit with blood on the woman’s fingernails, added to the evidence.
From this distance and my current sensor suite, I couldn’t prove anything, but it appeared ironclad even with Imbued breaking all the rules. Even so, the sheer amount of detail which I was seeing was remarkable; even the damage done to the rest of the room, including a television that had fallen out of the entertainment center. The woman had damage to her right lower ribcage which fit a collision against a hard corner. The knife in the man’s left hand hadn’t been used, but he was using it to menace the injured woman.
I glanced back at Roberto. “Ongoing assault. I’m going in hot.” I’d think of an excuse for how I knew that information after I dealt with the attacker. Perhaps I can claim I smelled the blood or something to do with my hearing. Now that I was past marveling at the details in my sensor suite, I actually could pick up on the metallic-sweet scent of blood. <You should turn off the video, Phoebe. This isn’t going to be pretty.>
“I’ll radio it in.” Roberto was far more experienced with this type of scenario than myself, and the protocol with Imbued working alongside mundane always seemed to involve sending us in first. After all, I could survive a hit from a tank’s main gun, while a normal officer could be hospitalized or worse by even a small firearm which struck the body armor.
<It’s sweet that you’re worried, but I have to keep watch.> Phoebe didn’t sound worried in the slightest. I wondered if it was the nature of her power at work; she’d taken me apart and put me back together on more than one occasion. Or perhaps she was worried, but was right about needing to watch and make certain everything worked out properly. Either way, I would have preferred to spare her from witnessing something so violent.
I bounded up the steps leading to the building in a single jump, using my equipment to keep me both fast and silent. Low rank Assassin packages, complete with animal senses and physical abilities, were so common that every major city had a handful of them. I looked like nothing special, as was the goal. With the floorplan and position of the attacker and victim in my head, there was no moment of hesitation as I navigated my way through. At least thirty seconds until Roberto catches up, mostly likely forty.
As fast and quiet as I was, the perp somehow had the presence of mind to notice me. He was a young man, a boy really, with skin only somewhat lighter than my current color. “Back off! I’ll gut ‘er like a fish!” He pulled her back, as if hoping to find a way out through the back. There was a back entrance, but my scanners confirmed it had a deadbolt.
The woman stared at me, the terror in her dark brown eyes reminding me of more than one person to die in front of me in the past. The way her heart raced, and how she favored the side that didn’t have multiple fractured ribs added to the reality of the situation. She might have been beautiful, when younger and without the bruises and contusions inflicted on her.
“Please! Help! He’s-”
“I told you to shut up, bitch!” The boy had one arm around her neck, which he squeezed to cut off her voice. My scanners showed the other hand held the knife against her back. If he held it against her neck, I might have been able to shoot it away before he could react. Instead, he had it pressed against her spine, up near the ribcage. The only way to shoot the knife would require blowing a hole through the woman.
I took a breath, tearing my eyes away from hers to look at the boy’s. His eyes, too, were full of terror. The faint scent of urine joined the blood, sweat and ozone in the air. I tried not to think too hard on why I could instantly identify it as coming from a human male. “Listen, man. I know you’re scared but-”
“Fuck you! I ain’t scared!” He pulled the woman back. She stumbled some, but kept on her feet. My scanners showed she was already bleeding internally, and at this rate it wouldn’t be long before she lost consciousness from her injuries. When her strength runs out, he’ll kill her. “Put down the gun!”
I lowered my weapon, though I didn’t drop it. “Okay, how about we talk about this? I’m sure you didn’t want to hurt her like this. If you let her go now, before making everything worse, a jury might-”
“Fuck you! This bitch ruined my life!” The woman screamed out as the tip of the knife forced its way between two of her ribs. My identification software went to work, identifying the woman as Jocelyn Ramirez, a local public defender. It still hadn’t identified the boy, but I now had a point of reference I was lacking before. How could this situation have come to pass? He’s clearly a former client of hers, but that tells me so little.
“It’s not ruined yet,” I said. “You’ve still got a future. But not if you keep going down this road.”
“You know nuthin’!” The boy pulled kept pulling her back, now they were in the doorway to the kitchen. “Bitch wanted ta suck up to th’ pigs, so she tricked me into a plea bargain. Wanted me ta turn on the Flyers.” The Night Flyers were one of the more successful local Imbued gangs. No one was sure how, but they managed to avoid capture time and again. Esper support was the most likely answer, but far from the only.
“Alright, I get it,” I said. “It was a bad plea. She made a mistake, and I’m sure she’s sorry.” I gave a meaningful glance at the woman, and she gave a brief nod. “If you just let her go, we can sort everything out.”
“They came for me. They got my sister.” The terror had left his voice, replaced by hate. The blade sank in the rest of the way, piercing her heart. Alarms flashed, letting me know it was instantly fatal, nothing my current loadout could do to save her life.
<Phoebe. Look away.> I brought my gun up, just slow enough that he saw it coming. Before he had a chance to scream, the trigger had been pulled. The left side of his neck exploded in gore.
He collapsed, gripping at his neck in a vain attempt to staunch the flow of blood, but at this point there was nothing he could do except die choking on his own blood. I tried not to feel too bad about not giving him a quick death.
Behind me, Roberto finally made it. “Christ, kid. What have you done?”