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In which the afternoon gets even stranger, and a mysterious threat more menacing.



February 14, 1987 continued

We could hear sirens in the near distance, and I was just feeling capable of getting back on my feet when Lucky threw me over her shoulder and jumped on her bike, ignoring my sputtering attempt to argue with her. She was pretty far gone into some strange mental space I'm not sure I want to know about, and since I didn't want it to turn into a struggle all I could do was attempt to convince her that I was OK. After a while this finally seemed to penetrate; she dropped me off on a random corner and roared off on her bike, presumably looking for something to beat up.
    I don't think I understand this woman at all.
    As if she wasn't bad enough, when I made it back to Josie's Phoenix insisted that I should go back to base rather than accompanying him on a hunt for the missing gangsters.
    Dammit, I don't need to be protected.
    So what am I doing here?
    I've spent some time analyzing the gun. It's not much to look at, a single piece of high-tech plastic, no seams or joints, and very few moving parts. The trigger. A targeting screen that shows a blinking red dot dead center at the moment. An opening which looks like it would accept a jack—probably to input targeting information, as it appears to have very precise abilities in that regard. A switch with three possible positions, which I haven't moved. I'm having a bad enough week, it would probably self-destruct or something. I've checked the database here for similar weapons and come up with little. It's not from off-planet, and it doesn't match specs for government covert operations. There's a local company called Renaissance Technologies that makes some materials along these lines, but there's another couple dozen in this country alone who do similar work.
    Giving up on that for a while, I called the station and talked to Sergeant Parker. No one has shown up to claim Susan Bates' body; she didn't have a will; her insurance sufficed only to bury her, which is about as much as I had before I got this job (thank goodness the state covers me now). Same company—no surprise there. I returned to the folder Reilly had left and went through it all again, seeking inspiration and finding none. The last photo showed Susan with her cat, which was puzzling. What had happened to it?

    While I was thinking about the situation, the ceiling fell in.
    According to Phoenix, while I languished at base he had been conducting a systematic search of the area. He ran across the smell of jet fuel and called in Lucky, who followed the scent to a ground-floor apartment and unceremoniously kicked in the door. One of the remaining Blood Boards made it halfway out the window, less than half dressed, while his girlfriend cowered in the bed. Lucky helped him out the window, breaking his leg in the process, and proceeded to threaten them both into telling her what they knew, which wasn't much. The other Board had gone to meet their employer at the parking lot of Renaissance Technologies, a place in East Cambridge.
    Phoenix and Lucky had just gotten over the fence when a van a couple rows away started up its engine. The back doors flew open, and a man wearing seven-foot-tall servo-assisted armor with jet-packs on its legs clambered out. He took off, but Phoenix succeeded in getting a rope on him and promptly climbed up to join battle in the air. Shouldn't have sent me home.
    After a brief chase Lucky dealt with the van's driver, evidently the boss of the operation, after a brief chase by the simple expedient of planting her staff through the vehicle's engine block. She then vaulted over the van to land behind it, ready and waiting. When the driver, a small, mousy-looking man, emerged with a very large gun, she took it away from him. A moment later, he was unconscious.
    He had a small communicator or phone on his belt, much like ours, and she heard two voices speaking through it.
    "I'm afraid neither of these operatives is sufficient for our purposes."
    "Terminate," another suggested.
    The chemical explosives in the man's head went off. So did the charges in the van. They had been carefully placed to minimize collateral damage, but the interior was completely destroyed. She ripped off a chunk of metal for analysis by some of her mysterious contacts, mainly interested in finding out if it might be government issue. It's not; hardly conclusive, but indicative that the criminal explanation may be the more likely one.
    Meanwhile, Phoenix engaged the armored flier in high-altitude combat, which eventually led them near the base. Talon had done enough damage by then that they were going down, rather quickly. A plasma rifle removed a large chunk of the roof, and they came down through it.
    I dove under the table. The collapse was quickly over, and I climbed out from the pile of debris. Phoenix had jumped off the man's back in mid-fall and somehow landed on his feet on the upper floor, grinning as he hopped the rest of the way down. The man on the floor, his weaponry half-useless by now, started to get up. It was the leader of the Blood Boards.

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson