The police cordon was in full effect when I arrived. I had to appreciate his good sense, having picked a maintenance building made of concrete for his last stand. It wouldn’t protect him against a dedicated attack, but the means to extract him without significant property damage was minimal at best. Still, if that had been the whole of the stand-off, it would have ended long ago.
Chief Brown was already on scene, so he was the one I approached first. “Sir, can-”
“Ellison? The fuck are you doing here? Where have you been?”
“Sorry, sir, it’s a long story. Listen, I’d like to talk to him. Please.”
He blinked in surprise, before taking a more hostile stance. “You’re not Ellison.” A couple of the nearby cops moved to Chief Brown’s sides, perhaps assuming some sort of Imbued shenanigans.
“You’re right.” I took a slow breath, selecting what I could and could not inform these men of my identity. “There never was an Officer Ellison. I was part of an undercover FBI investigation, sent here to infiltrate a vigilante justice group.”
“That was you!?” I feared for Chief Brown’s health, the usual stress of his position was toll enough, but including myself he lost four officers today. Some of whom were perhaps friends of his.
“I doubt you’ll believe me when I tell you how sorry I am.” The tension in the officers who just learned I was a ‘spy’ was evidence enough; the Blue Wall of Silence applied to all outsiders, including those from different law enforcement branches. Given that my actions tore a swath through their department, I couldn’t find it in my heart to blame them. “I haven’t made myself the easiest person to like.”
“I wish it turned out better.” I looked away from Chief Brown, to the building our fugitive holed up in. “I don’t regret doing my job. We stopped a lot of people who did horrible things. I just wish different people were guilty.”
Chief Brown stayed quiet for a minute, running through a breathing ritual to calm himself. When he finally spoke, the anger and indeed any other emotion had drained from his voice. All that was left was a tired, broken man. “Level with me. How bad is it?”
“Iron clad case. Extensive records, a living witness. No chance for a plea deal. Over a hundred dead stretching across the last ten years. Most within the last five.” I had no reason to lie, not at this point. I didn’t bother to elaborate, either. Chief Brown was a smart man, he’d recognize the unstated charges of premeditation and conspiracy. “I wish I was the bearer of better news.”
“And after all that, you want to talk to him? Why?”
Good question. “Wish I knew. Maybe I just want to say goodbye.”
Chief Brown looked around at the police standoff, then at the news crews which were stationed further back. “He claims he has a bomb. That he’ll set it off if we get too close. We can’t confirm if it’s true, but we’re certain he has his police issued equipment.”
<I hate to intrude on a personal moment.> I doubted I’d ever grow accustomed to Synthia’s voice in my head; I knew she wasn’t given a choice in the matter, but her voice was far too sensual for comfort. <But I can confirm through your scanners that there is no trace of a bomb. Short of some specific Gadgeteer work, you’re at no risk.>
I would also never get used to the fact that she could use my senses better than I could. <I figured as much, but thanks nonetheless.> I only gave tangential attention to Synthia, while keeping my eyes leveled on Chief Brown. “I do have ARC, and accept full responsibility for any damage caused by my actions. This is an FBI matter from this point forward. Would you like to wait for official clearance?” A bit of a bluff; I wasn’t certain the FBI would give me clearance even with our NSA connections. Synthia alone would cost Patil a good chunk of political currency.
Chief Brown hesitated, but in the end he had little choice. “Just give me a minute to allow my men to fall back and get the civilians out of harms way.” He gestured at the news vans with his thumb, somehow making the innocuous gesture seem like an obscenity.
“That’s more than fair.” Under the circumstances, I would have considered a list of anatomically impossible instructions to be fair. I took a few steps past the police blockade, into the no-man’s-land where bullets would go flying if it came to that. Chief Brown issued the orders to fall back and bring the news crews with them.
I took a breath, then walked forward, ignoring all the eyes on me along with the strobe like effect of police beacons which cut through the night. I had practice enough, ignoring the fact that my every action was monitored from behind my own eyes. Once in range, I used my bioscanners to identify my target. He was tired, the combination of an adrenaline crash and despair had played havoc on his life signs. He sat in the far corner of a dark room, his hand on the gun in his lap. Despite the possible threat from outside, he had his head down.
<Synthia? Could you do me a favor and project my voice into the room? This isn’t the sort of conversation I want to shout through a door.>
I hadn’t even felt the changes to my systems, the way I always did when software was updated. <Thank you.> I turned around and leaned so that my back was resting against the door. “Hello, Bob.”
“Saul?” Inside, Robero’s head shot up, as he looked for the source of my voice. “Right. Who else would it be? What makes you think I want to talk to you after everything you did?”
Everything I did, huh? I couldn’t answer his questions, so I asked a handful of my own. “Is this your plan? After a decade of killing people, you kill yourself?”
“You going to try to stop me?” Through my technology, I could see Roberto move further into the corner, out of any possible line of sight. “I bet you’ve got some crazy-ass power which would let you do it, too. After ruining everything else, why would you even let me have a clean death? Do you know what they do to former cops in prison? Do you even care?”
Signals and protocols flashed through my eyes, confirming that Synthia could use my equipment to stop him. On my command, she’d be able to alter the gunpowder in his weapon to inert chemicals. I didn’t issue the command. “What would your wife say? Do you want to leave her alone? I’m not going to lie, there’s not a lawyer on the planet who can help you at this point, but I promise you’ll get a chance to hug your wife goodbye.”
“My wife hasn’t touched me in a decade.” As he spoke, Roberto lifted his gun and thumbed off the safety.
He must have hoped for suicide by cop, rather than to do it himself. I was at a loss for words, but saying nothing seemed wrong, somehow. “Oh. I didn’t know.” Saying nothing would have been better.
“It was just a bit before Christmas, in ’05. I was putting in more time than usual so I could get the week after off, go see Bonnie’s parents.” Roberto held the gun out, as if to shoot the door. Perhaps his hope was still death by cop, in this case by my hand. It felt strange, allowing him to aim the gun at my back. “They broke in while I was at work. Still don’t know if they were there to get back at me, or it was just a robbery gone wrong. There were five of them. They were never caught.”
In the back of my mind, I could feel the option to look up the police report Synthia accessed; true to her claims, she was better than any human or basic AI could hope to be at information gathering. I chose to read the writing on the wall, rather than the file. “That’s when you decided that the law wasn’t good enough anymore?”
“I knew the law wasn’t good enough long before then!” His voice trembled as much as his hands. “You saw them! They’re like animals! Worse than animals! At least animals know better than to roll around in their own filth.”
After what I’d seen, I couldn’t disagree with him. I switched to the other set of thoughts on my mind. “But you knew you couldn’t do it alone, so you went looking for recruits.” An assumption on my part, but an educated one. “You had decades of experience on the streets, knew every cop in the office, bet you were friends with most of them and knew why each and every one joined the force in the first place. You were an institution unto yourself, knowing who to approach first would be the easy part.”
I took a breath, despite it being unnecessary. “It was only after you stumbled across Synthia that things really took off, however.”
“Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out, huh?” Bitterness crept into Bob’s voice. “You got some kind of Esper power? Playing me from day one, I bet. That shooting the other week was all a setup, right? Saul was just some sick game, right?”
“I don’t want to sound egotistical, but this operation, as well as most of my powers, are classified. I can’t even tell you my real name. What I can tell you is that I had no idea you were involved. I enjoyed our patrols, even looked forward to swapping stories. Names and fake murders aside, everything I told you was true.”
“So you’re saying even with all your powers, you couldn’t figure it out?” Somehow, there was almost a sense of pride or vindication in Bob’s voice, as if he considered it a victory having fooled an Imbued’s powers.
“In truth, I can’t claim much credit at all for solving this case.” True enough; more work was done by Synthia, and Stormbreaker’s confession was Recoil’s work. “In retrospect, it seems so obvious. Who else would be able to keep such good track of my routine so that Alice and the others could play their games? For what it’s worth, I wish things were different. I wish you never crossed the line.”
“I don’t.” Despite the fact that he was huddled in a dark room, Roberto smiled. “I’d change the ending, but I had a good run. I bet I got more people off the streets, saved more lives, than you or the bastards you worked for will in a hundred years doing it your way. I protected innocent people from the worst scum even though I knew some day doing the right thing would cost me everything. Can you say the same?”
More than you know, Roberto. More than you know. “There’s one artificial intelligence who wants you to know that she didn’t appreciate being used as a slave for your crusade. Or are you going to pull the whole ‘she’s not really human’ routine? Or is this one of those ‘the needs of the many’ moments? Because if either of those your idea of the ‘the right thing’, then you slept through the most important part of history. Incidentally, she is why you were caught.”
Bob managed a pained chuckle. “I suppose I deserved that. Tell her I’m sorry?”
“Sure, but I don’t think she’ll be in a forgiving mood. She’s quite upset with you.” Seeing as she gave me the chance to disable his weapon, which would result in his trial, humiliation, and inevitable execution, I may have understated Synthia’s opinion.
“Can’t say I blame her.” Roberto turned the barrel of the gun toward himself.
“Still going through with it, huh?” Synthia wasn’t the only one upset with the man. “Funny, I never took you for a coward, Roberto.”
“Cut the horse shit, kid!” Bob’s voice shook with the emotions warring inside him. “You think you understand everything? I’m already dead! We both know I’m going to a federal prison. The news will drag my name through the mud and put my family all over the front page just to make a buck. Then I’ll spend years behind bars before they drag me out to kill me, and put my family through that hell a second time!”
“And losing a husband or father or grandfather now is so much better?”
“Then there’s Bonnie to think of. She’s not well, she can’t hold down a job of her own anymore.” Much of the trembling had left Roberto’s voice as he became more determined to act on what he saw as the only remaining solution. “If I’m convicted, my pension is gone, she’s left with nothing. As it is, she’ll have to move in with Gabriela and her husband. All I can do now is protect them from the other hardships.”
I ignored the burning sensation in my eyes. I wonder if I still have the ability to cry. The unbidden thought called up a bioscan that confirmed that, yes, my tear ducts were still in place. “Sounds like you have it all figured out, Bob.”
“Since the day I took up the badge, Saul.”
I stepped toward the officers who still held the perimeter against reporters and curious civilians. Behind me, a gunshot rang out.