There are times when all your experience, all your acquired knowledge is rendered useless. Deep down in The City’s underground tunnel system, confronted with unknown alien life forms in giant tube tanks, with an equally unknown enemy breathing down my neck and still no trace of my partner Nat, I suddenly felt at a loss. The pulsating, womb like chamber of horrors I had stumbled upon was a dead end. The way I had come in led straight back into android-filled disaster. What other option was left? Which way was I to turn?
There was one person I could have consulted with. Whose thoughts and judgement I had come to rely on. Not that I was incapable of drawing conclusions by myself. After all I had been in this job longer than I knew Nat. But her input had always steadied my decisiveness. Now that her vote was missing, a feeling of dread washed over me, like all thoughts being sucked into a black hole of nothingness.
Anyone foolish enough to make a career of fighting crime had to accept the fact that our lives were at stake anytime. We deal with it, each in our own way. Saying good-bye is the toughest thing, but in dire fact it’s part of the business. If Nat had been killed in action I would learn to accept it, somehow. The bitter truth was, I couldn’t bear the thought of having lost my partner—without any chance to actually say good-bye.
This was not what this was all about! There was no indication of murder. Nat had been abducted for a reason and for all I knew she had to be alive. I imagined her, forced to follow at gun-point. A vision of her face, steadfast and somewhat defiant. She was here, somewhere! All I had to do was hunt down her abductors and get her out. Then we’d show them just who they’d tried to mess with.
There—that was exactly the kind of imaginary kick in the pants I had needed to pull myself together. My gun still ready I retreated back into the tunnels and kept my eyes open for another exit. There had to be one or I would have run into people by now. And sure thing, there was a door—only a few feet from the hall of androids—hidden well behind a curve, but unlocked.
I did a quick stunt to secure my way, then I was in. The closing door behind me immediately shut off the rattling noise and alien stench. I found myself in completely different surroundings. An obviously illegal facility, yet all too human.
Maybe our search for giant man-eating bugs had accidentally brought us too close for comfort. Somebody must have blown a fuse and rushed to stop a perceived threat. Instead, they’d managed to set me right on their trail. Well, tough luck!
Suddenly everything started to make sense. Although neither Nat nor I had ever been here, I knew exactly where I was: at the ultra-tech arms manufacturing laboratories the Governor had affirmed and reaffirmed didn’t exist. I congratulated myself on not having voted for them in the first place.
A specific sequence of blinks activated my helmet cam. Down here it was disconnected from S. I. S. Net, our Shadow Inc. Security Network, so the information had to be stored locally. I would worry about getting it through later.
For now I contented myself with recording each and everything. The Second Bilateral Agreement of Outer Rim Sovereign Star Systems (2BAORSSS) specifically prohibited the design and development of AI-controlled robotic weapon systems—yet here we had unmistakable signs of exactly that all over the place.
I was running out of time. Couldn’t be long before someone would appear to check the site. And I really needed to find Nat. The gun still ready I slipped through a back door. A tickling sensation ran through me and I found myself teleported into yet another tube tunnel, with a humming and the soft hiss of recycled air surrounding me.
With every turn I grew more tense and was just about to accept that I had trampled down another dead corridor when it ended into a well-lit chamber filled with costly artifacts. In a beat of my heart I ducked for cover.
And there she was.
Suspended in one of those blasted tanks, giving no sign of recognition or life. I couldn’t help holding my breath.
»So—you found us.«
Startled by the growling voice to my left I yanked up my gun and took aim. A SEA fighter—a Superficially Enhanced Anthropoid! I fired.
Zzing-ing and clang-ing the bullets ricocheted from his armour plates and whistled around the chamber.
Keeping an eye on the big fella, I ceased fire.
He reached for the instrumental screen. »Let’s see what happens…«
»Hands off!« I said, chambering another round.
He bared his teeth and jumped.
~ to be continued ~