“Does probable cause mean nothing to you?” Dorian grumbled, but with that half-smirk on his face that told John, rule breaking or no, the android would follow him anyway. John was thankful, he knew his partner had been beyond pissed at him when he’d explained what he wanted to do, but at least he seemed able to put it aside for now. He knew he’d get a strong talking to once they were back in the relative safety of the car.
John grinned back at him as they ran low, weapons holstered and pointed at the ground but ready to aim if necessary. They’d just climbed up and over a chain-link fence and were now skirting the stacks of dead machinery in the breakers yard as they raced towards one of the warehouses on the property. Private property that they had no right to be on.
“My dad was a firm believer in the Ways and Means Act.” He explained. “If something needs doing, you find ‘ways and means’ of getting it done. You must have been distracted, because I quite clearly saw someone else climbing over this fence and I’m concerned about a break in.”
He could see Dorian role his eyes at the obvious lie, making him wonder about the sheer level of detail his creators had put into those facial expressions.
“You talk a lot about your father.” Dorian observed in a low voice as they crouched behind an Audi that looked like it had hit a freeway barrier at 90 miles an hour. They looked out towards the warehouse, which was now a mad exposed dash in front of them. There didn’t appear to be anyone around, it was after dark on a Friday night after all, but it still wouldn’t be a good idea to go racing in without checking it out first.
“And yet you’ve only ever mentioned your mother once.” Dorian continued.
John gave him a look, that even in the dark Dorian should be able to read as ‘you’re talking about this now?’ John shrugged, “Apparently it’s difficult raising a small child and being married to a workaholic cop, so she chose something else.”
“I’m sorry.” Dorian said guiltily, “I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No, you shouldn’t have. But personal space means less to you than probable cause means to me right now. Anyway, it’s alright, I don’t remember her much and my dad more than made up for it.”
“That can’t have been easy, I would have thought the shift work would make raising a child difficult.”
“He had to work a lot.” John admitted, “but if he missed the odd school play or football game, who cares? I knew he had more important things to do, and he more than made up for it with the time we did spend together. A lot of kids don’t get that at all, I was lucky.”
As they watched the dark building for signs of movement, John could feel his partner’s eyes on him. He braced himself for whatever the android would say next, maybe something poignant about how a kid should never feel their only parent had more important things to do, but instead he said, “You were in a school play? Man, I wish I could’ve seen that.”
“Will you concentrate?” John asked.
“I am concentrating.” Dorian pointed out. “I have scanned the building. I can see no heat signatures. The security guard on the gate appears to be the only person on site. There are two security cameras at the front of the building and one at the rear door, however there appears to be a window left slightly open on one side. It would be possible to skirt around, avoid the cameras and then we could gain access via this window.”
John sighed. Of course, Dorian was paying attention. It was an odd paradox that the more he’d gotten used to working with the android, the more often he forgot that he wasn’t human. “Lead the way.”
They moved round to the side of the building using Dorian’s careful calculations to avoid being caught on camera. When they reached the window that he had been talking about John realised it was going to be trickier than Dorian had made it sound. The window was a small high up window, likely belonging to a bathroom, that had been left open a crack. John had no doubt that he could get his fingers in to release the latch but it still wouldn’t open that far. It was going to be a tight squeeze if either of them were going to make it in.
“We will fit, but you’ll have to take your vest off. Would you prefer I go in alone?”
“No, this is my crazy theory.” John shrugged out of his shoulder holster, padded bomber jacket and black fleece combo that he always wore to work so that he could get to the covert Kevlar that he wore underneath. Dorian had suggested the bulkier, ceramic plated tactical vest for this little jaunt into what his hunch had convinced him was an InSyndicate warehouse, but John had promised him this would be a sneak in, sneak out operation and that his usual attire was fine. Reluctantly he took his kit belt off too, dumping everything in a pile at the wall and leaving him shivering in the cold air in his black vest top.
“It is a crazy theory. And when we’re done we are going to have a talk about just what you did to come up with it.” Dorian said in a voice that reminded John of being sent to the Principal’s office at school.
He allowed Dorian to give him a boost up to the window and then he wriggled through. Once he managed to fit his broad shoulders through the gap, the rest was easy, although he was glad that Dorian had been unable to see his inelegant landing on the floor on the other side. All his gear was passed through the window and by the time Dorian joined him, in a move that appeared frustratingly elegant, he was already redressed and had his weapon in his hands again.
They fell into silence as the two cops left the small bathroom and out into the main workshop area. So far nothing looked any different to any other breakers workshop he’d been in over the many years he’d been a cop. Of course at first glance it was sometimes hard to tell legitimate businesses from illegal chop shops, but with this place supposedly belonging to InSyndicate he thought there would be something. Bomb making materials laid out on display might be asking a bit much but a guy could hope.
He’d been waiting for an opportunity to look into this lead for some time. Three months ago he’d been leaving a session with the Recollectionist and looking for a place to satisfy a craving for prawn itame when he’d seen a man he recognised from the raid. The force of the flashback staggered him, almost sending him to his knees, if he hadn’t just been to the Recollectionist then he may never had noticed but the vision was clear. When he recovered, he’d followed the man to a sports bar. He’d been hoping the guy was on his way to a meet with someone, but it turned out he’d just wanted a beer and to watch the game, but John had persevered and followed him home. From his address he could do his research at work, although couldn’t find anything on the guy except a shoplifting charge from when he’d been a teenager.
The guy he was tracking, a William Deacon, seemed on file at least to be a perfectly regular phone company employee. He was an expert in electronics, but pretty much anyone earning a decent wage was these days. John was sure though, so he’d stuck with it, spending all his free time tailing the man. Although he was tempted to mention it to Dorian or Sandra, he’d kept it to himself for now, knowing that if he told them he’d have to explain to his two best friends that he was still seeing the Recollectionist, even though he’d promised them both that he’d stopped. It had taken two exhausting months of sitting outside Deacon’s house, following him to the store, to work and to the occasional restaurant or bar before he’d finally got what he’d wanted. The man had left his house in the middle of the night and come here, to this warehouse. As tempting as it had been to follow him and get a closer look, a glance through a pair of pilfered night vision googles had shown the place to be crawling with people. So he’d left, promising himself that he’d check it out later.
That later had been a long time coming. He’d managed to get wrapped up in a high profile murder case and it had taken up all his time. That and he’d noticed Dorian taking way more notice of him than usual. The android clearly knew something was up. He hadn’t wanted to drag his partner into this, he knew it was becoming an unhealthy obsession, but tonight they’d been on their way back from investigating a home-invasion and had driven passed. John had given his partner as few details as possible, knowing he’d be able to fill in the blanks, and thankfully rather than justifiably raging at him, he’d followed him in.
They completed a sweep of the building with practiced precision, John avoided using his flashlight just in case anyone was watching he didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. There was just enough light from the security lighting beyond the windows anyway. John knew that a physical building sweep was one of his many ‘old school’ habits. Most these days would rely on the scans completed by their synthetic partners to determine risk. It was one of the many things that he hated about the MX’s, considering they weren’t supposed to have feelings they were frustratingly put out whenever their observations and calculations were questioned. John had explained to Dorian that he would rather continue to sweep the old-fashioned way for two reasons, the first being that if you got out of the habit of doing something then you wouldn’t be as good at it when you did come to need to do it, the second being that if they missed something then it should be as much his fault as Dorian’s. Thankfully Dorian agreed, which didn’t stop John from subjecting him to the well-rehearsed rant about technology causing laziness, illustrated by the abysmal standards of driving since self-parking cars had become the norm.
“Any idea what we’re looking for?” Dorian asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
“I’ll know when I see it.” John replied and hoped it was true.
“I’m going to find a computer,” Dorian told him, heading towards a back room that appeared to be an office.
John nodded his agreement and continued to search the workshop. He watched as his partner disappeared into the small room. He wasn’t sure what he’d been hoping for but it didn’t seem to be here. Although the question remained why a phone company technician had come to a car breakers in the middle of the night. He stood at a workbench, looking over the mess that had been strewn across it, looking for anything out of place.
“Their accounts all seem clean.” Dorian said suddenly, right behind him.
John hadn’t heard him come up to him and it made him jump. As he did he knocked the table, scattering a handful of nuts and bolts across the floor.
“Dammit.” He cursed, rubbing at his thigh where he’d bashed it before bending down to pick up the strewn bits of metal. As he ran his hand across the ground in front of him, searching for the pieces, his hand caught on the edge of something. He got out his flashlight and turned it on, ensuring the beam was kept down low. It illuminated a square section of the cement flooring that looked different from the rest.
“Dorian look at this.” He pointed out, continuing to run his hand along the rough edge he’d found until he found a small depression that he could get his fingers into.
“It’s a trapdoor. I can’t see through it, it’s made of something that blocks my scanners.” Dorian confirmed crouching down with him and searching the opposite side until he too found a small depression. He slotted his fingertips in as well so that they had a side each, holding the door in one hand, their firearms in the other.
John grinned, “I knew there was something to this. You ready?”
“If my sensors are blocked I may not be able to request back up.” Dorian pointed out, “We should tell someone where we are.”
John sighed, “Fine, but not the whole damn precinct. Message Sandra, tell her that if she doesn’t hear from us in an hour then she can send the cavalry.”
“Half an hour.” Dorian corrected, his face flickered blue before John could protest the amendment and he announced, “Done.”
“Okay, on three?” John counted it out and on three they pulled. The trapdoor was heavy and groaned under the movement but the hinges were smooth, suggesting it was used often. With a heave, the pair of them lifted the slab of metal and concrete back until it came to a stop, resting just a bit further back than 90 degrees. John shone his flashlight down into the hole and illuminated a rusted metal ladder leading down into a tunnel.
“Lead you in?” Dorian said with a smile, the phrase having become their own private joke for when they were about to do something inadvisable.
John nodded, and kept his weapon trained on the hole as Dorian holstered his and climbed down. He made it to the bottom with his usual efficiency and then covered John as he came down to join him. Once they were into the tunnel, John shone his flashlight around. The tunnel was narrow and made of brick, the walls curved slightly, there was no water in the tunnel but it smelled of damp and other nasty things that made John’s nose wrinkle. It wasn’t quite big enough for John to stand up in and he made a mental note not to let his head touch whatever grime the place was coated in.
“It’s the old sewer system, but it’s clearly not in use.” John said in a low voice, although he knew that Dorian had probably worked that out for himself. “I’ll bet this goes straight under the wall. They were supposed to have blocked everything up so no one could get through.”
“I still can’t get any readings but I think you’re right. We’re not too far from the wall right now. It’s only a small tunnel, maybe they missed it.” Dorian agreed.
“Or someone’s put a lot of effort into opening it up again.” They set off slowly, weapons raised, listening for any indication that someone might be in there with them, but the sound of something dripping and their own muted footsteps was the only thing either of them could hear.
The tunnel sloped downwards gently as they headed further in, and every so often they’d come to a T-junction and have to make a decision. Although Dorian was still having problems getting any heat readings or transmissions he was still able to calculate which direction they needed to go to reach the wall and so they let that guide their decision-making. John followed behind trying to commit the twists and turns to memory, thankful that Dorian would be able to lead them out as easily as he was leading them in.
As they got further into the maze, John felt more and more tense. He’d never outwardly show it and certainly never admit it to anyone, but he hated exploring places in the dark. As it was he was constantly expecting someone to jump out at him, and the previous experience of that actually having happened before in an incident that had gotten Pelham cracked over the head with a baseball bat, combined with an overactive imagination set his teeth on edge. So when he heard a click up ahead he nearly jumped out of his skin, barely containing a gasp.
Dorian glanced round and grinned at his partner, flashing him a view of perfect teeth highlighted in the beam of the flashlight. John scowled at him to dissuade him from making any kind of sarcastic comment, but even though he opened his mouth, the android didn’t have time to reply, because as he took a step forward round the next corner, gunfire erupted, blasting into the android and sending him flying backward.
“Dorian!” John yelled, flattening his back against the wall in a move that was more instinct than thought process. He looked down at his partner, laying flat on his back, his eyes staring at the ceiling with a dead look. His body had taken multiple hits from the short blast, each one oozing purple fluid into his pale grey shirt, but it was the shot to his forehead that had John most concerned, it had hit right between the eyes and had blown a huge chuck of synthetic tissue away. It made John feel sick and he had to remind himself that Dorian was an android and would not have been able to feel it.
Taking a deep breath, John peered round the wall, weapon held high in his right hand, flashlight held underneath in his left. The light shone over someone further down the dark tunnel, he didn’t pause to allow his mind to process the image before he fired a series of shots. He heard a yelp as one of his bullets impacted into an assailant but he ducked back behind the wall before he could see what he’d managed to inflict. He heard cursing and multiple voices as they dragged their injured person back and someone else took their place. It was impossible to tell how many were down there but he didn’t have to be a detective to know he was outnumbered.
“Dorian!” He tried again, unable to hide the desperation in his voice. The damage was extensive, but he’d seen Dorian badly damaged before and he almost always managed to power through. “Shit!” he cursed when his partner didn’t respond.
He gripped the flashlight between his teeth and then crouched down low. Taking a deep breath, he counted himself in and on three he darted out of his cover. Holding his right arm up straight he fired off multiple wild shots down the tunnel while with his left he twisted his fist into the collar of Dorian’s jacket and pulled.
Dorian was heavy, he realised, as he struggled to drag the rigid body out of the line of fire. Despite keeping up an almost relentless fire, one of their attackers managed to get few shots in. John felt a burn as a bullet clipped his left shoulder, but he didn’t allow it to loosen his grip on his friend. He hauled him out of the way, just that short distance was enough to leave him gasping for breath but he didn’t stop, moving backwards, keeping his weapon raised, he put his whole body into dragging the android over the uneven ground, retracing their steps through the twists and turns as best he could. Once he got the momentum going it was easier, but it still made his forearm and tricep burn worse than the bullet graze had, his fingers cramping in the vice like grip.
His retreat was short lived, although if he was honest he got further than he’d expected, before the next assault. Three men, masked up, came round the latest corner and opened fire with semi-automatic rifles. John squeezed the trigger in retaliation but then a thud on his chest that knocked the wind from him and blew him backwards.
He cracked his head on the sewer floor as he fell, still not having released his grip on Dorian’s jacket. The flashlight escaped his mouth and bounced once before rolling away and leaving him in almost darkness. He blinked rapidly to try to clear the stars from his vision and tried to draw in huge ragged breaths to his painful lungs.
Get up! He told himself, his inner voice cold and angry. He propped himself up on his elbow and managed to find enough purchase with his boots to scoot himself backwards in a pathetic attempt at escape, still dragging the lifeless body of Dorian with him.
The flashback hit him with a jolt; the smell of gunfire and blood and filth, the pain burning through his lungs, the heavy weight of his best friend at his side… it was all happening again, he realised, and suddenly he felt like he was back in that alley all those years ago, having failed his best friend and lead him to his death. History doomed to repeat itself, he thought angrily, as he struggled to sort the memories from the present. I’m sorry, he thought, to his old partner, to the new one beside him, as he listened to the sound of combat boots approaching him, right before something smashed into his face and he lost consciousness.
John woke up as someone stabbed the tip of a knife into the inner part of his left forearm. He growled and pulled away as blood welled up from the cut, but there were hands pinning him face down on a ridged metal surface and he couldn’t fight them off. He couldn’t see and that raised a panic in him until he realised a hood had been thrown over his head, still not a calming thought but at least he could be fairly sure he hadn’t been blinded. He pulled back, intending to take a swing but was stopped by the pair of handcuffs that had been applied to his wrists too tightly, pulling his arms behind his back. He felt the knife digging around in his arm and then catching on what they’d clearly been looking for, and fishing the sub-dermal GPS chip out of where it had been surgically buried. After it was out they mercifully left him alone, although something was left pressing on his back. It took him a moment to realise it was a boot, shoved between his shoulder blades, not standing on him exactly but there in case he moved beyond their liking.
He tried to concentrate on his surroundings, using the exercise to try and ignore the pain in his face and arm. They were moving, there was a hum of an engine and the floor he was on rattled around. He was on the back of an old flat-bed truck, one with a corrugated steel floor, and wherever they were going, they were moving fast and the roads were bad. He tried to think of possible off-road locations and then realised they weren’t on one of the rare unpaved backwoods roads, this was tarmac, but badly maintained and full of potholes. With a sick feeling, the answer dawned on him, he was beyond the wall. He felt the panic rise in him, he could be anywhere by now, and more to the point he was completely exposed. Who knew what levels of radiation still lingered beyond the wall? How long before it would start to corrupt him? Of the countless refugees, he’d met in his career, crammed into the slums and the homeless shelters of downtown, almost all of them had some sort of cancer or autoimmune disease, many of their children born with deformities. Thousands of lives, all destroyed by living in the poisonous wasteland that was this side of the wall.
He had to push that aside and concentrate of something else or he’d go crazy. He listened to try to work out how many people were in the truck with him. It was hard over the sound of the rattling engine and the creaking as the old machine careened over the terrible road. There was the guy with his foot on John’s back. From the angle he was at, he guessed that they were sitting on the side wall, with his foot propped on John’s back. There had to be another one in the back too, because someone had held him with two hands while someone else had performed their little GPS removal surgery. That left at least one in the cab, driving, although there could be as many as three, depending on the style of truck they were driving. At any rate, he was clearly outnumbered, and with his hands cuffed, the metal bracelets cutting painfully into his wrists, he was in no state to take them on. Despite this he had to fight back the urge to rear up suddenly and try to tip the guy using him as a footstool off his precarious perch.
It was cold without the heat generated by the city, wherever they were, the wind was harsh and whipped across the top of the truck, John was sheltered by the side walls, but just barely and it still made his skin raise into goosebumps, especially where they’d ripped the sleeve of his jacket open to get to his arm. The plus side was that at least the cold air was keeping him from being nauseated. Not that he got motion sick, but his head was pounding fiercely and he was sure he had a concussion. He didn’t know why, but he’d always expected the air other side of the wall to smell different, whatever radiation smelled like, but he supposed it still might, his nostrils clogged with thick drying blood from his broken nose. Unable to do much about his current circumstance, he tried to relax and slow his pounding heart, it wasn’t long before his abused body and the rumble of the engine lulled him back to sleep.
When he awoke again it was because the man with the boot gave him a vicious shove. Then two pairs of hands grabbed him by the arms and hauled him up. The detective cursed as the sudden movement made his head spin and he tried not to throw up in the black hood that was still on his head. They dragged him off the truck and marched him forward. They entered a building, he could tell because suddenly he was out of the wind and the floor changed to what sounded like tile. He could hear what he thought was about four sets of footsteps aside from his own.
“Where am I?” He growled, at no one in particular. No one answered him. “What do you want with me?” Still nothing. They paused a moment and there was the sound of heavy, rusted metal scraping. Bolts being pulled back, he realised, an antiquated locking mechanism but some of the older places downtown still used them for a vintage effect. Here, he supposed, there was nothing ‘vintage’ about it. There was a creak of hinges and the sound of a heavy door being pulled back. He was then shoved to the left and nearly fell, having not anticipated the stairs, he landed on his ankle instead on his foot with his left, causing pain to flare at the joint, and only the superior strength of his prosthetic right leg kept him from tumbling further.
“You could’ve warned me.” He snapped to his captors, who continued to hold his arms roughly and guide him along. They were none too gentle and the way he was being held put more pressure on his wrists from the handcuffs. His fingers had started to tingle from lack of circulation, he clenched and released his fists over and over to try to work the blood into his hands. How long had he been in them now, cinched far too tight? If he’d ever cuffed a suspect this tight he would have been struck off for risking nerve damage, but then he supposed that arguing ethics with a group of people who had shot and kidnapped him would just get him laughed at.
At least the pain in his ankle wasn’t too bad, his boots had saved him from doing too much damage, his old football coach would’ve just told him to walk it off, and it looked like that’s what they were going to make him do. The stairs went down a long way and then levelled out into a corridor, they were definitely back underground, although it smelled better than the old sewer had done. The realisation unnerved him until he remembered he was on the other side of the wall, all the better to protect from any radiation, he assumed.
As his thoughts turned back to radiation he started to feel a little sick. He knew it was likely his concussion and more than a little of his imagination, and tried to ignore it. The truth was though, no one had been over the wall to know just how radioactive it still was. It had been universally decided there would be some places worse than others, studies had been done on refugees, which had created a map of the places they believed to be worst affected. Not much good to John who couldn’t remember where those places were and had no idea where he was anyway. Environmental scientists had tried sending drones over the wall to test the levels more recently but the drones had all been shot down by the angry residents. A team had gone over once and had never come back.
Eventually they came to a halt again and there was the sound of more bolts sliding back and a heavy door being opened. He was shoved in, hard enough to stumble. This time they let go of him and he couldn’t get his legs under him in time. He fell, unable to break his fall with his hands behind his back. He twisted so that he landed on his right shoulder, it still hurt but at least it hadn’t been a direct impact to his bruised and possibly cracked ribs. He sensed the presence of someone stood over him and in a moment of madness he rolled to his back and lashed out a kick with his right foot. As the sole of his synthetic foot met it’s mark he heard a snap of bone and his victim howled in pain, collapsing to the ground. He grinned beneath the hood, even as the other man kicked his face in retaliation, it had been worth it.
The hood was yanked off his head and a dimly lit room was revealed, a single swinging lightbulb hung from the ceiling. As possible weapon, he considered, if he could get his hands free. The room was windowless, and contained nothing but a plastic bucket in the corner. There were two men stood over him, neither one was someone he recognised. A third man, the one he’d kicked was crumpled on the floor whimpering and clutching his knee. John could see he’d managed to snap the man’s joint, he doubted he’d ever walk on it again. In a further act of defiance, he spat a mouthful of blood out onto the floor, hiding his dismay at the cracked pieces of molar that came out with it.
“John.” A familiar voice came from the doorway that made his heart leap into his throat.
“Anna?” He hated the way he said it, unable to keep the tremor from his voice.
She stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame with her arms folded casually across her chest. He hair was shorter, cut in a bob that ended just above her shoulders, but her facial features were exactly as he remembered. He’d not seen her in almost three years, she looked like she hadn’t aged a day, whereas he felt like he’d aged a decade. She was even dressed in the same dark brown leather jacket that she’d always wore. It was a jacket he’d bought her, he remembered, had cost him far more than he would have ever spent on clothes for himself but she’d looked so good in it. Still looked good in it, he corrected, although he hated himself a little for thinking so.
“You’re still wearing it.” He said, stupidly, wondering what it meant. Did she have some sort of feeling for him deep down, or had she dug it out of storage just to fuck with his head?
“It’s a nice jacket.” She shrugged, nonchalantly. Really? He was tied up and bleeding, and she was just going to stand there with that slightly condescending look on her face? John remembered a time about six months into their relationship when he’d come home with a nasty black eye from work. She’d been so upset about the whole incident she’d burst into tears, pleading with him to be more careful. Was she really just that good an actress?
“What am I doing here Anna?” He asked, snarling through blood stained teeth.
“My name’s not Anna.” She pointed out coldly.
“No, don’t suppose it is.” John tried to keep his voice steady. “But I guess I’m calling you Anna until you tell me your real name.”
She just smiled at him, a parody of the sweet, loving smile he remembered. He’d loved that smile once, but now it would be tainted forever.
“Poor, sweet John. You were so vulnerable when I met you, so desperate to be loved. I can see nothing’s changed.” She stepped forward slowly, avoiding his legs so that he couldn’t kick her the way he had the other kidnapper. She crouched down beside him, he struggled to sit but she pinned him to the floor with both hands, pressing firmly on his cracked ribs, causing him to let out a voluntary gasp of pain. She leaned in then and licked the blood from his lower lip, drawing it into her mouth and sucking on it sensuously. John let out an involuntary groan and he could feel her smile as she flicked her tongue into his mouth, across his teeth, begging him for access. He refused though, jaw clamped firmly shut, although this one small act of defiance took all of his willpower. She drew back and looked at him with a touch of disappointment.
“Fine! Play the brave little soldier. But you forget I had your apartment bugged. I know all about the angry conversations with your boss, I’ve listened in every time you cried yourself to sleep. Tell me John, does it still take you a bottle of bourbon to forget about me long enough to close your eyes?”
“What’s the plan here Anna? Talk me to death or did you bring me here because you missed me?”
“Well, you always were easy on the eye.” She admitted. “It would be a shame to ruin that.” And then she grabbed his broken nose and pulled, snapping the bone back into alignment. It hurt enough to bring tears to John’s eyes but he blinked them away hastily and refused to cry out. “Hmm,” she mused, “You always could handle a bit of pain. Quite enjoyed it if I remember rightly. I wonder if you’ll enjoy what my boss has to offer when he gets here.”
She got to her feet and brushed her hands off on the thighs of her dark skinny jeans, as though touching him had been distasteful. “Uncuff him, take anything from him that he might use as a weapon, then get him to a medic.” She ordered, indicating the hapless man still snivelling on the floor. She strode out without a second glance and away down the corridor.
A fourth man, who looked like he’d taken a lot of steroids in his lifetime appeared and stood in the doorway. They weren’t taking any chances, which was going to be a problem, but John was slightly satisfied in knowing they clearly saw him as a threat. Mr Muscle stood guard with a hand resting on the pistol at his hip, while the other two dealt with John, stripping him firstly of his boots and socks, socks, really?, and his kit belt as well as the leather one holding his cargo pants up, tossing each item out the door as they went. They then took the cuffs off, storing them out of the way in an inner jacket pocket before divesting him of his jacket, shirt and body armour, leaving him shivering in his pants and black undershirt. They finished with a thorough pat down to ensure they’d not left anything on him. John had hoped he’d at least get his shirt back but it was thrown out the door with everything else.
Mr Muscle drew his weapon and held it pointed at John while the others hauled the injured man to his feet. The man cried out as he was slung between his comrades and they dragged him out of the room. As distracted as the others were, Mr Muscle kept his focus and John knew better than to try to take them all on at once. They left quickly, slamming the heavy metal door shut and sliding the bolts home. John sat up, drawing his legs up towards him and resting his elbows on his knees. He gave a cursory glance to the chunk of flesh the bullet had taken out of his shoulder and the deep purple bruising that was appearing on his chest, before testing his remaining teeth with his tongue and spitting more blood to the floor. Well, shit!
“That’s it. It’s been incredibly difficult, I had to reconstruct his processor piece by piece, but I think I’ve got it. I just hope there’s enough of ‘him’ left. I can repair the rest of the damage while he’s awake. Here goes nothing… Welcome back Dorian.”
Dorian felt a jolt to his head and then blinked as his awareness slowly came back. He looked up and saw Rudy leaning over him with an intense stare. Beyond him, arced the vaulted church ceiling of Rudy’s lab. It usually unnerved him, when the engineer studied him like that, but then with a flash he remembered and sat up suddenly, feeling an overwhelming urge to leap off the table. He moved so fast that he nearly cracked heads with Rudy who dodged to move out of the way and ended up crashing into his workstation, sending tools skittering across the floor.
As he sat up he met the gaze of Captain Maldonado who was stood, arms folded at the end of the work table with a concerned look on her face. Beside her, Valerie Stall sat in a wheeled office chair looking upset and even Richard Paul was there, stood behind her with one hand in his pocket but the other resting on Valerie’s shoulder. The biggest indicator that something wasn’t right was that she wasn’t shrugging him off but in fact seemed to take comfort in the touch.
“Dorian.” Maldonado asked carefully. “Do you remember us?”
“Yes, of course. Where’s…” His voice faded away as he checked his memory processor and came up with the answer he was looking for. “We need to find John now!”
“We’ve been looking, I have teams scouring the city, searching for anyone who may have some information.” Maldonado said. “We need you to tell us what happened. I sent a team to your location and they found you, badly damaged. They didn’t find him. Rudy has been working night and day to get you back online, we need your help.”
“How long?” Dorian asked, afraid of the answer.
“Three days.” Valerie said, her voice has its usual calm and confident tone, even if her face was betraying her exhaustion and fear.
Dorian’s mechanical heart skipped a beat. “He’s beyond the wall. He could be miles away by now. We were checking out the building because John had evidence it was linked to InSyndicate. We found the tunnels and were following them when we were ambushed. I don’t know how many there were, something was blocking my scanners. The tunnels were heading in the direction of the wall, we thought it might have been a way through.”
“Can you show us?” Valerie asked, less certain now, as though she didn’t really want to see what had happened.
Rudy adjusted the large overhead screen that he used for most of his work and the four humans gathered closer so they could see better. Rudy handed Dorian a data tablet, with a few swipes of the screen he was able to project the recording on the screen.
They watched everything through Dorian’s eyes. He fast forwarded through the whole thing so that they got a sense of what had been happening so far but without wasting precious time on the less fruitless areas of their exploration. When they approached the ambush he slowed the footage to normal pace. They all watched as Dorian stepped out into the next part of the tunnel, there was a glimpse of four people, masked up and dressed in black and brandishing old 20th century assault rifles. Gunfire erupted and the camera angle changed as Dorian was obviously sent backwards with the force of the bullets impacts. The view flashed red, with warnings across the screen, the same warnings that had alerted Dorian to his processor failure. From that point on, Dorian had been unaware but like an old ‘black box’, the recording continued for some minutes after.
The recording view, from Dorian’s eyes, was pointed mostly at the roof of the sewer tunnel. But just in the bottom corner, John could be seen, firing off shots down the tunnel. They could hear his heavy breathing and him shouting Dorian’s name and the gunfire that was aimed at him. And then John loomed into view and grabbed Dorian’s jacket. They all watched as a bullet grazed his arm, tearing through the sleeve of his bomber jacket. They heard him curse in pain and watched as the ragged sleeve began to darken with blood. And then the view shifted again as John began to pull.
“Stupid son of a bitch.” Paul muttered, but his expression was more one of carefully concealed admiration than derision.
As the recording continued, John kept coming in and out of camera view as he dragged Dorian away, his mouth set in a hardened grimace as he struggled. They watched him fire more shots and them saw a returning one hit him square in the chest, causing him to fall backwards with a thud. For a moment, the camera view was just pointed at the ceiling, but they could hear agonised breaths as John tried to suck air into his lungs, and then they began to move again, much slower and jerkier this time, the detective refusing to give up. There was a shout and then a black masked figure came into view striding over Dorian’s prone body and slamming the butt of his AK47 into something out of shot, as the rifle was pulled back droplets of blood flew off the stock, splattering on the screen. Valerie gasped and Paul shuffled, looking away. Perhaps worse was that the man brought the rifle down a second time even more viciously than the first, sending more blood flying.
“Got him!” The man shouted. “Gimme a hand.” The man slung the rifle onto his back and reached down with both hands. He pulled John up by the front of his jacket and the small group of onlookers were subjected to a glimpse of their friend. His head hung limply as he was hauled away, his face slack and covered in blood, running from a disfigured nose and a gash below his left eye, soaking into the stubble along his jaw and trailing down his neck. It was just long enough for the image to become burned into their brains and then he was gone. The shouts faded away as the group left, discarding Dorian as scrap metal. As the recording ended the five of them were frozen in place as they came to terms with what they’d seen. Dorian sat on the metal worktable gripping the rim of it hard enough to have left dents where his hands were.
Detective Paul was the first to recover himself, lashing out by sending an angry kick at a metal tool cabinet. Its contents rattled and clanged loudly in the echoey space but they still didn’t drown out his snarl of “Fuck!”
Dorian hadn’t expected such a reaction from him of all people, he and John had never gotten on well, the shorter detective usually making his dislike of the other man well known. To see how much he actually did care caused Dorian to doubt his assessment of the man, until the pair of them made eye contact.
“You!” Paul snarled, pointing a finger. “What were you doing letting him down there without back up? He should have left your sorry ass, you know he’s fucked in the head and you’ve just twisted away at him, making him forget you’re just a fancy collection of wires.”
“That’s enough!” Maldonado barked, silencing the detective. She gave Dorian a sympathetic look but at the same time she didn’t deny what Paul had said. Dorian knew they had all been thinking it, hell, even he had been thinking it, had John left him there he may have escaped. Dorian felt the guilt of that overwhelming, he knew no matter what the outcome, it would haunt him for the rest of his existence.
“We need to decide what to do next. Doctor Lom can you isolate that man’s voice and use it to come up with his identity?”
“Erm,” Rudy said nervously, he was always nervous around the captain, but it was clear the pressure was getting to him. “I can try, but there’s no centralised database for voices so it’s not like running facial or DNA recognition software, it’ll take time.”
“How much time?”
“Erm, I don’t know, hours? I’d have to go through every recording relating to InSyndicate. And that’s if we have a sample of his voice in another recording. It could be we have nothing to match it to.”
Dorian stared down at himself, suddenly realising he was without his shirt and his chest plate. His torso was a mess of purple and blue exposed wires and circuit boards, three large bullet holes still in his body. “If Rudy keeps me online, I can do that while he fixes the rest of me.”
“Good.” Maldonado nodded. “The rest of you, I want you to go home and get some sleep. Meet me in my office at the start of shift tomorrow and we’ll see what we have to work with.”
Paul gave them all a curt nod and then strode out of the room, hands in his pockets. Valerie too, got up to leave. “Goodnight.” She addressed the room, but her hand slipped over Dorian’s a moment and gave it a quick squeeze of support before leaving.
“Can you have Dorian ready by tomorrow?” Maldonado asked gently, in that voice she used when she knew she was pushing someone beyond their limits but had to push anyway.
Rudy nodded. The fear he’d been showing as he’d watched the recording was gone now and had left him looking weary. “I think so, if I push it. I’ll er… I’ll put the coffee on.”
“Thank you.” Maldonado said, giving both the scientist and the android a grim smile before leaving.
As Rudy began to potter about his lab, firing up his old coffee machine and picking up the tools that had ended up strewn across the floor, Dorian sat staring straight ahead, his hands still gripping the worktable.
“We should be out there looking for him.” He said, his voice full of emotion. Once again, he found himself in a situation where, if his creators had felt the need to give him working tear ducts he’d be sobbing. He leapt off the table suddenly, landing slightly unsteadily on his feet and looking around for his clothing.
“Hey!” Rudy rushed to him and put a hand on his shoulder to steady him. “You’re in no fit state to be going anywhere. With all your wiring exposed like that you’d short circuit as soon as you stepped out into the rain. He gestured to the large stained glass window behind him. Dorian hadn’t noticed before but there was heavy rain lashing down on it. It was dark out, and Dorian realised he hadn’t checked what time it was. A quick system check told him it was 0032hrs.
“They have been out there.” Rudy continued, guiding Dorian back onto the table. The android, complied, laying down and allowing Rudy to inspect his exposed chest. “They’ve been out there non-stop. They started their shift at seven this morning and when I called Captain Maldonado to tell her I was about to wake you back up they were all still at work. And they’ve been doing that every day since John went missing.”
Dorian studied Rudy a moment, then asked. “When was the last time you slept?” He could just scan him and find out, but once upon a time John had impressed upon him that that was rude.
“I… er… I think I had about 45 minutes yesterday. I’m afraid I fell asleep while recalibrating your memory banks, woke up with the keyboard imprinted on my face. Very embarrassing, as I then had to do a video conference with the Captain.” He rambled.
Dorian smiled at him. “I’m sure she just found it a relief that you were working so hard. She cares about John a lot you know.”
“We all do.” Rudy confirmed. “Even Detective Paul. You should ignore what he said earlier, he’d as tired as the rest of us and has been surprisingly upset.”
“He’s right though.” Dorian said, his lip quivering. “John should’ve left me.”
“Hey now.” Rudy shushed him. “You know he’d never do that. He cares about you, more than he’d ever admit. We’ll get him back you know.”
“You can’t know that.”
“Well, no. But sometimes you just have to have a bit of faith.” They paused as the words sank in, before Rudy laughed nervously, trying to break the tension. “Besides, I always thought of him as kind of indestructible you know, like you.” Dorian didn’t correct him to point out neither of them were as indestructible as the scientist would like to believe.
Dinner was soup again, which was a good thing as John’s face was still so swollen that he doubted he’d be able to chew anything even if he was given the opportunity. He dreaded to think what it looked like, his left eye had puffed up so big that his eye was sealed shut and his right wasn’t much better. He was fairly sure his cheekbone had been fractured, but there wouldn’t be much he could do about that even if he had a med kit. The hit to his right jaw had loosened a couple of teeth, not just the one that had shattered, but thankfully after a day or so they had seemed to settle, leaving him with just pain and bruising. The bullet that had hit his vest had left a knot of deep black bruising, that over the course of time had spread to about a third of his torso. It had worried him a lot at first but it now appeared that the bleeding had stopped and he was just thankful there appeared to be no permanent damage. The flesh wound to his shoulder, which had started out concerning him least was now the thing to keep an eye on. Every day they’d bought him in a bucket of water to wash with, and he’d been cleaning the wound out as best he could, but it had started to get inflamed. He was starting to think he shouldn’t have washed it at all, the cell he was in was dirty but who knew where the water had come from, chances were that it was worse.
John estimated that it had been three days. Three days of soup and the occasional bit of stale bread, of showering in a bucket of freezing cold water, and of having nothing to do but inspect the slow progression of his injuries while he wallowed in self-pity. Anna hadn’t come back, except in his dreams every time he dozed off. The man she had referred to as her boss hadn’t shown up yet either. Not that he was particularly looking forward to meeting him. He only saw the guards when they brought him his soup and wash bucket and they barely acknowledged him either. The only one who’d talked to him was his synthetic leg, which after day two had sought to regularly remind him that it was running low on charge.
When he heard the bolts slide back on the heavy metal door he expected it to be the same man as before, coming to take away his soup bowl at gunpoint as usual. Since John had crippled one of them on his first day, they hadn’t taken any chances.
Now they stood at the door, an Uzi pointed at him while they demanded he leave the bowl on the middle of the room and then step back against the wall as they retrieved it them backed away again. John cursed them for being so cautious, during his first meal he’d spent a fair amount of effort sharpening his plastic spoon against the concrete floor so that the end of it made a crude shiv. The second day they’d just given him a bowl and he’d had to drink from it while trying to avoid spilling it down himself. This time he had his bowl in the middle of the room for collection already so that he could stay sat tucked into the corner of the room. This time though, his guard had backup.
There were three of them. He recognised all from the first day, minus the one he’d kicked. These three had seemed to be taking it in turns to guard him. As any attempt at conversation during their brief visits had resulted in failure, he had come up with names for them all, the large one who looked like he abused steroids had evolved from Mr Muscle to Arnie, having decided it was a better fit, after all when he spoke, on the rare occasion he spoke at all, it was with all the humanity of a Terminator. Then there was Harry for the taller, slimmer one of the two who had a nasty white scar in a zigzag above his eye which reminded him of a character from an old children’s book and the shorter, balding one he’d designated as Paulie, after his colleague Detective Paul. Should he ever see the fourth one again, though he doubted he would, he would be called Gimpy.
Now, it was Harry’s turn to hold the Uzi on him while Arnie and Paulie strode forward and grabbed him by the arms. Before he even had chance to protest, he was hauled to his feet. His synthetic leg complained at the sudden movement, “Charge at seventeen per cent. Please replace in charging dock.” It chirped. Arnie looked down at him with a frown on his face, clearly none of them had known that he had a synthetic leg. It amused John that they must have believed all that power he’d used to break Gimpy’s knee had come from him. No wonder they were scared.
John struggled against their grip, “Where the hell are you taking me now?” He snarled, making a feeble attempt at headbutting Paulie. He was never going to escape their grip, and Paulie dodged his head easily but he wanted to distract them from thinking too much about his leg. If they took that away from him he’d be in even more trouble than he was now. As usual they ignored him and started dragging him from the room.
He managed to get his feet under him and walk out with them under his own steam, not wanting his bare feet dragged across the floor. He was lead out of the door and across a tiled lobby. This was the first time he’d actually been able to see where he was, to his left was a set of rusted turnstiles and to his right was a platform dark tunnel and beyond that a dark tunnel. It was an old subway station, he realised, judging by the twists and turns it had taken him to get there, he must be in a hub station, as he certainly hadn’t walked along the tracks to get there. He looked round frantically for any signs, hoping to get an indication to where he was, but they’d thought of that and someone had sprayed black paint over everything. It had to be a big city though, Toronto was nearest, but had they gone further? Ottawa? Montreal? He’d been to Toronto as a kid, before the war, but his memories of the place were vague and this wasn’t ringing any bells.
He didn’t have long to investigate as he was marched across the lobby and into a room opposite his with a similar metal door. He stopped short when he got to the doorway and could see in. Shit! He screamed internally and started to struggle as hard as he could as he was dragged across the small room to a metal framed single bed with no mattress. He squirmed against their grip and kicked out in any which way he could. He succeeded in knocking over the portable generator that was beside it, but didn’t cause it any damage. Arnie and Paulie held him down as Harry looped cable ties around his ankles and secured him to the metal bedframe. As he moved up, John wrenched his right hand free and launched a punch, catching Paulie in the eye. His head snapped back and he let out a yelp but he didn’t let go and recovered quickly. The three of them wrestled the detective into place and soon had his wrists tied tightly to the bed as well. They stepped back from him, leaving him gasping with the effort of the struggle, the cable ties having already cut into his wrists deep enough to draw blood.
There, beyond the three thugs, he saw Anna. She was stood in the doorway, with a grim expression on her face, still wearing that damned leather jacket. “You bitch!” John snarled, “You really gonna let them do this? We lived together for almost two years! I let you into my life, I cared for you when you got sick! All those trips away we had together, the nights we spent talking out on my roof, long enough to watch the sunrise! Are you telling me it meant nothing to you?” He could feel a panic attack coming, he fought the visions that flashed through his head, of Anna dressed all in black, throwing the grenade that had been meant to kill him, while he lay in that alley, bleeding out beside his dead partner. “Can you really stand by and watch them torture me?” He asked, hoping for a different answer to the one he knew was coming.
She refused to answer him though, just strode out of the room. He could hear her talking to someone outside, “He’s ready.” She said, and then her footsteps as she walked away.
Someone else came in in her place. A thin faced man, a few years older than John, casually dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt. He looked ill, he had no hair on his head and had lost his eyebrows too, only about half a dozen eyelashes clung stubbornly to his lids. It made John wonder how someone who was so obviously fragile had made it in a criminal organisation.
“Wait outside.” He spoke to the other men, and they all filed out without another word. John noticed they all seemed wary of this new guy, despite his obvious sickness. Lex Luthor, John dubbed him quickly.
Lex gave John a grim smile and then grabbed a chair from the corner of the room and set it near the bed that John was strapped to. “John Kennex.” He began, in a voice that was firmer than his demeanour. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Emily.” Emily? John wracked his brains, realising quickly that he meant Anna. “She’s impressed you’re still breathing, and quite frankly, after all that happened to you at that raid, so am I! We felt for sure that you would have eaten your own bullet before now.”
“Tougher than I look.” John muttered.
“Right now, you’re looking pretty damned pathetic.” Lex commented casually, bending down to fiddle with the generator. He had a pair of jumper cables and affixed them to either end of the bed. John shifted nervously causing the metal springs to creak. Once the circuit between bed and generator was completed he sat on the chair and fiddled with the dial on the generator. John found himself fixated with the man’s hands, watching as his fingers ghosted teasingly over the on switch.
“I suppose it’s only fair to give you the opportunity to tell me everything you know before I turn this on.” He said. “Although, to be honest, I’d be a little disappointed in you if you did.”
“What do you want to know?” John asked.
“I know you’ve continued your investigation into InSyndicate yourself. I’d like you to tell me the extent of your investigation and who knows about it.”
John barked out a harsh laugh, “Would you believe me if I told you I didn’t get anywhere? I certainly didn’t tell anyone what I was doing.”
It was the wrong answer. Lex flipped the on switch and the bed coursed with electricity. It sent pain into every muscle in John’s body, causing him to tense. He bit back a cry and gritted his teeth. Lex placed his long, elegant fingers on the dial and slowly turned it up. John gasped as his muscles went into spasm, his back arcing against the bed, wrists and ankles pulling against the restraints, causing them to bleed further. And then he felt the restraint on his right ankle snap, the burst of power, causing a surge in his synthetic leg. Barely able to still control his body, yet with a sudden strength in his limb that he hadn’t had before, he kicked out, hitting Lex in the chest. The man was blasted back with the force of the kick, toppling backwards on his chair with a heavy thump and cracking his head on the floor, knocking him out cold.
“Shit!” He heard someone outside and then the three thugs rushed in. They crouched down by Lex and Paulie checked him out, pressing his fingers to his carotid artery to check for a pulse. “He’s fucking killed him.” He announced, looking up and glaring at John who was frantically trying to fight the electricity and his remaining bonds. Arnie went over to the generator and turned the dial up sharply. John’s mind went completely blank as the pain tore through him. When Arnie turned it off a second later, he was left chest heaving and blinking back dark spots in front of his eyes. He fought for control of his body as it twitched involuntarily. It took all his concentration just to close his fist. When he found he could do that, he tried to move his leg but he couldn’t. It was dead, he realised with dismay, the circuits completely fried.
Dorian felt a dozen pairs of eyes on him as he entered the precinct alone. It made him want to turn on his heels and run away, until he caught the gaze of Valerie Stahl and she gave him a grim smile. He stepped down into the bullpen and crossed the floor heading to Captain Maldonado’s office, which had its glass walls tinted so no one could see in. He got halfway there before Detective Paul grabbed his arm and stopped him in his tracks. In an instant Stahl was stood there with them.
“They’ve been in there an hour.” Paul whispered conspiratorially.
“Who?” Dorian asked. Both detectives looked worried. It had been less than eight hours since he’d seen them last, neither looked like they’d slept well. Paul was gripping a cup of black coffee like his life depended on it and even the genetically engineered Detective Stahl had dark circles under her eyes that no amount of makeup had been able to hide.
“The Deputy Chief, and someone from IA.” Paul said, distaste for both people clear in his voice. “Surely they’ve both got better things to do.” Dorian thought back to the last time the team had been involved with Internal Affairs. It had concerned him that officers who he believed to be clean, and who appeared to hate dirty cops would be so aggressive toward those who’d chosen to clear out the corruption that had taken hold after the war, but then they’d interrogated John over the raid, again, had brought up his father, and implied they were both dirty. Their whole holier than thou attitude and nasty accusations against his friend, had left him with the same bad taste in his mouth, metaphorically speaking, that it left other cops. John had been fond of saying that criminals were innocent until proven guilty, but cops were guilty until proven innocent, and Dorian had seen more than enough proof to believe that was true.
“What are they asking her about?”
“They want us to stop looking for John.” Stahl said sadly.
“We almost dropped the ball yesterday.” Paul explained further. “We had a murder case, with the potential for it to be high profile. We got our killer but there was a manhunt and a civilian got injured. IA thinks we’ve been spending too much time looking for Kennex and need to prioritise other work, that it wouldn’t have gone as far as it did if our resources weren’t stretched.”
“Is that what you think?” Dorian asked accusingly, remembering how quick Paul had been to throw John’s friend Cooper to the IA wolves.
“Hell no I don’t.” Paul growled. “No matter what I think of Kennex, he’s one of ours and we should be doing everything we can to find him.”
Dorian’s superior hearing suddenly picked up raised voices from behind the tinted glass. “I will not back down! Not while one of my men is missing!” He’d never heard Captain Maldonado in anything less than complete control of the conversation. Things didn’t sound good. He couldn’t hear what else was being said, after all the office was supposed to be nearly soundproof. But then the door was wrenched open violently.
“To imply I’m having a ‘hissy fit’ is the kind of sexist remark that should have died out with the last century,” Maldonado was practically snarling, loud enough for the whole floor to stop in their tracks and watch the exchange. “I should report you for your attitude, where’s IA when you need them?” She asked sarcastically, glaring daggers at the IA officer. She strode down the steps into the bullpen and across the floor, still managing to look imposing despite her tiny frame. “Dorian.” She barked, and the android snapped to attention. “Let’s go.” As she reached the small group of detectives she spoke to Paul and Stahl in a low voice, “I’ll call you later.” She promised, before striding out of the precinct, Dorian hot on her heels.
Dorian followed the Captain out to her personal car, a small red sports convertible. She got in and indicated the android join her. When he did she pulled out of the parking lot, at speed. Dorian realised with horror that she had the same aggressive driving style that John did.
“I can’t believe there are still dinosaurs like that in the job.” She said, after a few minutes of awkward silence. Dorian had no idea what to say, so kept quiet and let her rant. “If I was a man I’d be seen as bravely defending my officer, but because I’m a woman I’m ‘too emotional’! Hissy fit my ass, he wants me to leave John for dead!” She took a deep breath and calmed herself. When she spoke again with was with her usual calm, even tone. “They’ve suspended me.” She confessed.
Dorian was shocked by the news, “How long for?”
“Probably until I’ve done a suitable amount of grovelling. At least until they think I’ve given up on getting John back. They clearly don’t know me very well if they think either of those things are going to happen any time soon.”
“The team really appreciates the way you always have their backs.” Dorian told her with a heartfelt smile. “And I really appreciate everything you’ve done for John.”
Maldonado smiled at him faintly. “That man!” She sighed. “He’s going to be the death of me.”
“You really care for him, don’t you?” Dorian said carefully. He wasn’t quite sure how to embark on such a sensitive subject with his boss, after all they rarely spoke at work and never about anything other than the case they were working on.
The smile got bigger, “I knew from that first day he sat in my briefing room, all shiny boots and eager grin, uniform straight out of the packet, that he’d be someone special. Equal parts brilliant and infuriating. I’m not sure when I started to feel like his big sister, but it was a long time ago. I guess he’s always needed a little bit of looking after, whether he wants to admit it or not.”
Dorian returned her smile, thinking of his partner and imagining what he’d been like as a rookie. “We’ll get him back.” He promised then, hoping it to be true.
Maldonado nodded, “We will. You’re a good friend to him Dorian.”
They fell back into silence, but it wasn’t awkward like before, each one lost in their own thoughts of their missing friend. Dorian gazed outside the window and watched the streets flash by. He recognised the route, having done it multiple times, his suspicions confirmed as they pulled up outside an old warehouse conversion. They got out and Dorian followed her to the door.
“I bullied him into giving me access when he was off sick.” Maldonado explained, as she touched the fingerprint scanner on the front door and it allowed them entry. They started up the stairs of the old building, Dorian followed her up a few steps behind, deep in thought. He was just starting to understand the depth of the friendship John and Maldonado shared. Dorian was beside himself with worry, he assumed the petite woman beside him must be too, although she was better at hiding it.
“I came here when he first went missing,” she explained. “I always assumed he was doing his own research on InSyndicate but all his files had been deleted. I’m hoping you might be able to recover…” she stopped mid-sentence. As they got to the top of the stairs they saw that John’s front door was partially open. They gave each other a look and then silently they both drew their firearm.
Dorian stepped up ahead of Maldonado to enter first. On a curt nod from the captain, Dorian pushed the door open and they entered silently. They moved through the apartment quickly, ensuring there was no one inside and then going through the glass doors onto the roof and checking that and the fire escape that lead down to the street. When they had determined the place was clear, they both holstered their weapons and went back inside.
The place was a mess. John wasn’t always the tidiest of people, Dorian was fairly sure the discarded clothes on the bedroom floor was all him, but everything had been rummaged through. The pair of them stood in the middle of the open plan apartment and surveyed the damage. Everything been pulled apart in the most vicious manner, drawers pulled out, sofa overturned and the lining on the bottom split open with a knife, mattress pulled off the bed and food pulled from the fridge and freezer. To frustrate matters they’d detonated a DNA bomb, covering everything in dust, any attempt to get any forensic evidence had been destroyed.
Dorian went over to John’s work desk in the centre of the room and brought up the holographic computer screen, scanning through the information to look for any CCTV footage that John may have set up. Maldonado moved to the kitchen and started sorting the food that had been pulled out, sadly, John’s diet seemed to consist mainly of ready meals and instant noodles and so most of it was salvageable.
“They were here not that long ago, nothings defrosted yet.” She told the android, putting most things back but taking the perishables out of the fridge and throwing them in the trash. John hadn’t been in his apartment for four days already, and unless they got him back that afternoon, things like the small carton of milk and the open packet of bacon would soon be inedible.
She finished and wandered over to Dorian as he got the camera footage up. They’d known the man was slightly paranoid, with good reason it turned out, and he hadn’t disappointed, with concealed cameras outside his front door and at the back and on the top of the fire escape. Dorian played the footage in reverse until he found what he was looking for, timestamped just over two hours previously. Unfortunately, it didn’t show much, one person, a slim female build, wearing black skinny jeans and a dark grey hoodie concealing her head. Over her hoodie she had a dark brown leather jacket and she’d finished the ensemble with gloves to avoid fingerprints. She kept her head down as she fiddled with the lock and then she got the door open. At that point she looked up at the camera, revealing a pretty, light-skinned face and dark eyes. She grinned at the camera, as though she knew it was there and then blew it a kiss, before disappearing into the apartment. Dorian heard Maldonado gasp as the woman’s identity was revealed.
“That’s Anna.” She explained, for a drawer under the desktop. Oddly enough, it was the one thing that had been left unopened. She opened it now and the pair of them peered inside. Dorian reached in and pulled out the frame that was inside. It was an old fashioned printed photograph, a close up of John and the woman from the CCTV. John had her wrapped in his arms and was resting his chin against the top of her head. They were both grinning madly, their hair windswept, a sunset over a calm blue sea in the background. Dorian held the frame and traced a thumb over John’s smiling face. But he noticed something else in the otherwise empty drawer, he reached in and pulled out a small velvet box. Dorian was almost afraid to open it, but he did. Inside was a slim rose gold ring, a trio of little diamonds embedded in the ornate metalwork. It was a delicate ring for delicate fingers, Dorian looked back to the photo and felt a surge of what could only be described as heartache.
“He had it all planned out.” Maldonado explained, “they had a trip to Italy planned at the end of the month. He’d hired a private boat on Lake Garda.” She laughed bitterly, “He’d been so worried about getting it right, she’d travelled the world and John, well, all John has really known was this city, this job. He was so worried he wasn’t good enough for her.”
Dorian closed the ring box back up and threw it angrily into the drawer. “I want to kill her.” He said, knowing it wasn’t the right thing to say to a police captain who had regular concerns about his emotional health, but not caring.
Maldonado nodded, “If she’s hurt him again, I will.” She said coldly.
Dorian sighed and put the photo frame back, almost reverently, closing the drawer. He closed his eyes a moment as he ordered his thoughts and put his almost overwhelming emotions aside. “Okay,” He said eventually, as he scanned through the information on the computer. “Everything has definitely been deleted, but I’ll see what I can do.” Then, with a flick of his hand, the air in front of them became filled with coloured holographic notes in tight, neat handwriting.
Dorian scanned over the notes, without context they were cryptic, memory triggers for their author but difficult to decipher for anyone else. Some were simple notes of events and observations, ‘Find Anna looking through files. She claims looking for photos’, ‘Investigate Anna. All returns clean.’ Others seemed to have been streams of consciousness, working out his thoughts in print, ‘Recollectionist. Anna cluster triggered. Mistake? Maybe not. Begin Membliss.’ But there were others that Dorian couldn’t readily explain. ‘Parisian underground protests’, ‘Keynote at Oxford?’, ‘Assassination of Italian Prime Minister.’ How John had linked those events in to his investigation, Dorian wasn’t quite sure.
“Did he ever speak to you about any of this?” Maldonado asked.
Dorian shook his head. “These files were deleted a while ago, but I know he didn’t stop investigating. We found the warehouse because John saw someone downtown that he recognised from the raid. Last time he spoke to me about it, his memories were still really vague. So I can only imagine that he was still seeing the Recollectionist.”
“Damn,” Maldonado breathed. “He promised me he’d stopped.”
Dorian nodded. “Me too.”
Maldonado got out her phone and with a few swipes on the screen she dialled an oft used number. When it was picked up she put it on speaker.
“Stahl, are you free to speak?” she asked, before the younger detective could even say hello.
“Erm, hold on.” The was a pause as she moved to find somewhere more private to talk. “Yeah go ahead Captain.”
“I’m going to get Dorian to send you some stuff from John’s computer. Do some research and find out anything you can. We’re not sure how he’s made some of these links but if anyone can work it out it’s you. Please, do it off the books. If they find out you’re continuing the investigation, they’ll bounce you back down to foot patrol.”
“Of course. Sir, can I ask what you’re going to do?”
Maldonado gave Dorian a look. “I’m going over the wall to get him back.”
Well I hope you're all enjoying it so far, and yes, I did pause the episode Perception to see what John had written on his post-it notes, so everything in this story is from that. I’ve also agonised a little over working out where they are and where the wall might intersect. It’s got to be somewhere big, and near water and forest and somewhere that the potential for ice fishing is not too far away. I looked at all the places mentioned throughout the series and they were all over, so the States are unlikely to have been split up as originally thought. So, I’ve decided they are in Detroit and the wall is the boarder with Canada. Detroit has the right landscape, there’s a boarder there already and also as it’s currently the place to make cars, it would make sense that at some point they might move into becoming a centre for robotics as well as they have the industrial set up. Also in the episode Perception, they mention an officer from the 23rd precinct. I know Detroit currently only has twelve, but it would make sense that with the expansion of the city caused by people flooding over the boarder during the war, there would have to be some restructuring. I’ve clearly spent too much time thinking about this! ;-)
They left him there. Whether by accident or design, John was unsure. The death of the man he’d dubbed Lex had caused chaos. They tried desperately to revive him at first, but it was no good. The force of the blow had caused him to crack his head back on the floor, hard enough to shatter his skull. When they’d finally carried him away, John had been left staring at the smear of blood and brain matter left on the tile. They’d locked the door, leaving him in the dim light that filtered through the tinted office window, the smell of sweat and blood and burned skin hanging heavy in the small room.
His first thought was to escape, to smash through the toughened glass window and make a run for it, but he fell at the first hurdle when he couldn’t get the zip ties undone. He tried to manoeuvre his hands so that he could rub the zip ties against something, a sharp corner of the bed perhaps. But all it achieved was to make his wrists bleed again, the strong plastic cutting into his skin much faster than he could find anything that would cut into it.
And so he lay, resigned to his fate, for the time being at least. His heart was hammering in his chest and there was a pounding in his head. Suddenly he felt what little breakfast he’d had rise in his throat, and he threw himself to the side so he didn’t choke. The electricity had burned him where exposed skin had been touching the bed; his shoulders, his ankles, the small of his back where his vest had ridden up. In parts, the metal had actually fused to his skin, so when he moved to violently expel the contents of his stomach, he felt it rip away, leaving shreds of damaged skin on the frame. As he spat the last bits of acidic bile on the floor, mildly pleased that he’d managed to avoid throwing up on himself and the bed, he could feel the trickle of blood from his newest, rawest wounds. Once he was sure he wasn’t going to vomit anymore he rolled back onto his back and gave in to the pull of unconsciousness.
He had no way of marking the passage of time, as he lay there, drifting in and out of awareness, only that he was in desperate need of a piss. He had no idea how long he was going to be left there, but the idea of holding on became the last scrap of dignity that he could retain, so he did. In his more lucid moments, he thought about his leg. He was certain there were electrical burns around his stump too, it hurt about as much as it had when he’d lost it. Now his state of the art synthetic was nothing more than a useless hunk of dead metal attached to him, dragging him down. Even if he did escape, he had no idea how far he’d get. The only time he’d felt as vulnerable was the day he’d woken up in the hospital, muscles atrophied from fifteen months in a coma, a void under the sheets where his leg was supposed to be.
The first thing he’d done then was look around his room, convinced that if Anna wasn’t there it was because she’d just gone to get another coffee or something. He’d been so sure that she would be there for him, made excuses for her absence, even though the nurses tried to tell him otherwise as best they could. It turned out he had been receiving a regular visitor, although at the time Anna had been the only one he wanted. He refused to allow the staff to call anyone, and by the time Sandra Maldonado came for her next weekly visit, he’d had two days to turn that feeling of vulnerability into anger. He’d thrown the poor woman out, reducing her to tears in the process, and yet she’d persevered, coming back the next day and the next, allowing him to rage at her, her faith in him never faltering. It had taken him a long time to apologise too, too preoccupied with self-loathing in those early days, and he knew that no amount of apology would take up for how he’d treated her. He wouldn’t allow himself to give up, crippled or not, he had to get out of there, he decided. He’d made a promise to Sandra to keep trying, and it was a promise he intended to keep.
It may have been just then, it may have been hours later, he couldn’t tell, but he saw movement outside the window. The door unlocked and was pulled back with a squeak of rusted hinges. Stood behind it was Anna. She strode forward purposefully, avoiding the bloody smear that was what remained of Lex and sitting in the chair beside John’s bed. She wrinkled her nose with distaste at the vomit of the floor but otherwise appeared unaffected by the horrific display in front of her.
“Anna.” John breathed. He knew he looked a mess; broken, bruised and bloody, how could she stand to see him like that? He found himself wondering if she was in fact an android, although he knew she wasn’t. Hell, Dorian would be all quivering lip and in need of a hug if he saw him right now. The thought made John laugh, for some reason, a harsh bark of a laugh. Anna looked at him like he’d gone insane, John wondered whether she was right.
“My name’s not Anna.” She said coldly.
“No.” John tried to make his voice sound just as emotionless as hers, he had a feeling he was failing miserably. “It’s Emily right?”
She nodded. “Anna was my sister, she was killed during the war. As were my parents. By the time they pulled me out of the rubble of our house, I had lost everyone I ever knew. I was five.”
John stayed quiet and let her speak.
“My rescuers took me in, brought me with them as they fled the fallout. I was raised on your side of the wall but it was never my home. We lived with all the other refugees, in crumbling slums, while your government did their best to deny our existence, the horrendous effects wrought on innocents by the war they started. We watched friends and neighbours succumb to the radiation poisoning, unable to afford the treatment they needed. You all treated us worse than animals…”
“I never…” John began to protest the accusation.
“Don’t pretend you’re innocent in this!” She snapped. “You work for the same government that did this to us. You were there, part of the task force meant to clear out the slums… How many of us have you locked up John? Put a bullet in?”
“There were violent riots… I just…” He was finding it hard to argue, the pain was making it difficult to order his thoughts. He thought back to the riots that she was referring to, how quickly the instigators had turned to violence to put their point across, cars and buildings had been set alight and looted, police officers had been injured, three had been murdered. Law abiding citizens had lived in fear for months until they’d managed to get the outbreaks under control.
“Violence incited by heavy handed police who are too eager to assert their control over people they think don’t belong.”
John shook his head. “If that’s what you think then you can’t have been there. Is that what they told you, so that you’d hate me? They’ve fed you with lies so that you’d betray a man who only ever tried to protect people. A man who loved you.” He heard his voice give at the end, pleading. If there had ever been a shred of affection for him, he intended to find it.
Anna shook her head, as though she was trying to deny his words. He pressed on. “I understand, you were fighting for what you thought was right. But InSyndicate is responsible for the deaths of good, innocent people, they crossed a line a long time ago. Look at me and tell me this is what you want, that this is what righteous people do. Get me out of here and I’ll take you with me, I’ll protect you. A deal can be made, you can start again, clean slate, I promise I’ll do everything to make it happen.”
Anna gave him a long look, “Always trying to be the hero John. You think I need rescuing? From where I’m sitting, out of the two of us, it’s not me who’s the damsel in distress.”
“I always respected you too much to think you needed rescuing.” John said quietly.
Anna, he still couldn’t think of her as Emily, stood, before uncharacteristically lashing out. She kicked viciously at the nearest leg of the bed, causing the whole thing to jolt. The movement, however small, sent pain coursing through him and he had to screw his eyes shut to keep from crying out. When he opened them a moment later, it was to see her disappearing out the door, which she then slammed shut. He could hear her locking it as he breathed through the pain.
“Dammit.” He cursed, although if he was honest with himself he didn’t know what to expect. He rested his head back and stared up at his hand tied to the frame, and watched the thin trails of blood run from the plastic at his wrists down to his elbows. But then he saw it, the bed frame was just cheap, slot together pieces of metal and the kick she’d given it had caused it to come loose. Now there was a sharp edge exposed where the two pieces fitted together. Had she done this on purpose? He wondered, had he actually gotten through to her in some way? He realised those thoughts were dangerous to have, he could ponder them another time, for now, all that mattered was his escape.
The bonds were tight and they caught on his raw skin as he dragged his right hand across to the exposed edge of metal, but after a few grunts of pain and determination he managed to get there. He caught the plastic cable tie on the rough edge
of metal and began to scrape it back and forth. It began to work, which spurred him on to double his efforts, and before long he felt the piece of plastic snap and his hand was released. He felt pins and needles flood through his hand as blood poured back in, he had to clench his fist a few times to get his fingers working properly. A few hard smacks with the heel of his hand on the frame and he was able to dislodge the other side and repeat the process and then do the same with the ties at his ankles. His right ankle was the hardest as he couldn’t control his leg, so he knocked the head off the bed completely and used it like a saw, hoping no one would could running at the crashing sound he made as he did it.
Once free, he stood on one unsteady leg, picked up the head of the bed and made his way over to the window. The movement was laboured, dragging the broken prosthesis behind him. He debated taking it off, it would make him lighter, and the movement was causing pain to the burned stump, but it would unbalance him too, and without a crutch he worried that taking it of would make things worse. He considered the door only briefly, but it was thick metal and he’d heard it lock when Anna left. His only option was noisy, but he’d already made a lot of noise dismantling the bed while still on it, so he had to assume there was no one around to hear him.
The first time he drove a foot of the bed into the window, it did nothing but crack. The window was reinforced, but it wasn’t unbreakable. He smashed at it over and over, the action pulling at his bruised torso and making his arms ache. At about the fifth impact, the metal tore a hole through the glass, it took another three or four hits to clear enough of the glass away to get through. He pulled his vest off and laid it over the frame, scant protection against the slivers of glass still embedded there, but better than nothing. Climbing through was difficult, his battered body didn’t want to cooperate, especially when he caught his cracked ribs on the wall as he wriggled through. He landed heavily, head first on the floor outside. The pain took his breath away, but he couldn’t stay still, he pushed himself up with trembling arms, shook the glass shards out of his vest before replacing it and staggering away.
He headed towards the subway tracks, making it to the platform quickly. He glanced round, thanking his lucky stars that no one was coming. It occurred to him that he may have been walking, or limping at least, into a trap. But then he supposed the death of their friend may have thrown them into disarray, or maybe they believed that he was truly helpless now; tied to a bed, synthetic leg fried, half dead from electrocution. His third thought was that perhaps Anna was supposed to be keeping guard and she’d let him escape. It didn’t matter, he decided. Trap or not, he had to try.
The signage had been painted over on the platform too, he still had no idea where he was. With no idea where he was or where he was going he picked right, using his hand on the wall to steady himself as he limped towards the tunnel. The end of the platform dropped down in a steep narrow ramp, to allow maintenance access to the tunnel beyond. The change of angle was surprisingly hard to navigate as John struggled to drag his dead leg. By the time he got to the bottom, he was cursing the pain in his stump and the time he was wasting. His progress was far too slow for his liking and the threat of his imminent discovery was weighing heaving his mind. He pushed the pain aside and hobbled faster.
As he moved away from the dimly lit station, he was left in pitch dark. Unable to see anything in front of him made his progress even more precarious. His cold, bare foot had begun to hurt on the grit and gravel that lined the tunnel and unable to see where he was going, he kept stumbling over the larger rocks and other hazards in his path, but it was just one more thing to add to the list of aches and pains. It felt like he’d walked for miles before the wall he’d been using to guide himself disappeared. It happened so unexpectedly, and he’d been so reliant on using the wall for guidance and support that as his searching hand met with thin air he toppled over, landing with a thud on the debris strewn ground.
Shit! He cursed inwardly, as he rolled onto his back and tried not to black out. He let out a shuddering breath. This was becoming too much. The temptation to stay there and succumb to his injuries was becoming overwhelming, escape seemed an insurmountable task. But as he lay there feeling sorry for himself, he noticed a slight breeze on his face. The cool air brought welcome relief and the promise of an exit, so he allowed himself one more minute of abject misery before struggling to his hands and knees. Finding the rail track with his hand to guide him, he started to crawl.
Eventually he was awarded for his trouble. He could start to see a faint light up ahead of him. It renewed his hope but also his worry about being caught. Thankfully the combination of hope and worry gave him the strength he needed to push him back to his feet. If he came across anyone he would stand a better chance if he wasn’t on his knees. As he got nearer he could make out another platform. This was a newer, smaller station, and the light wasn’t artificial, it was actual daylight, spilling in down a staircase that lead from the platform straight up to street level.
Desperation to get out of the tunnels overtook the need for caution as he made his way into the station, crawled under the rusted metal barriers and staggered up the steps. He listened carefully as he crept up, not knowing what he would find when he got there. It all seemed quiet though. At the top was a small lobby, rusted ticket machines lining one side. The main entrance had been bricked up to stop access from the street. The light was coming through small, windows situated high up towards the roof, the glass long gone from them. He groaned at the thought of having to climb up through the window to get out, but then he turned around and saw a fire exit.
The door was rusted closed but with a few heavy shoves with his shoulder and it swung open, spilling him out into an alleyway. Right was intersected with a chain link fence, so he staggered left towards the main street. He got to the corner and peered round the wall, it would do no good to get caught now. The street was mostly empty, litter strewn, cars abandoned and rusted almost thirty years ago. Wherever he was, it appeared he’d come up in an industrial district, all the buildings appeared to be old disused warehouses, window smashed out, some covered in old graffiti. If there were gang signs mixed in among them, then there were none he recognised.
It didn’t look like anybody had lived there for a long time, if ever, which was why it was strange that there were two men sat on the doorstep of the building next to the alley. They were casually talking amongst themselves, sharing a hand-rolled cigarette. Tobacco was hard to come by these days, probably next to impossible on the other side of the wall. They wore heavy jackets against the chill, jeans and worn hiking boots. The clothing looked too good, John surmised that they must have been acquired on the other side. But it was the assault rifles that they both held leisurely across their laps that concerned the detective, coming to the conclusion that they were guarding something.
John backed away, turning back down the alley, resolved to try scaling the fence. He held onto the chain link, his arms screaming with the effort as he dug his bare toes in and hauled himself up. His toes were numb with pain and cold but it was still easier that it would have been in boots. Slowly he made his way to the top, as quietly as he could. As he set himself on top of the fence and struggled to haul his unresponsive leg over he caught a glimpse through the windows of the warehouse he was beside, the one that the two men were guarding. He shuffled along the fence, cringing at the rattling sound it made, until he could get a better look in.
Through the window was a large open plan factory floor. In it were rows upon rows of worktables and on each one lay a DRN. John stared at the image of his friend, over and over, an exact replica, looking exactly how he had before John had woken him up, lifeless eyes staring straight up at the ceiling. If he had to guess, he would say he was looking at a couple of hundred of them. That may not even be all of them, John realised. There were plenty of other warehouses. How many Synthetic Souls had Nigel Vaughn taken with him when he’d fled? How many ZNA processors had been stolen? It had been 500. He remembered the horror he’d felt as he’d fought that killer robot Danica, knowing there was a potential for so many more of them. It looked like his fears were well on their way to becoming a reality. There had been a second batch of DRN’s ready to go when they’d started to malfunction and had been pulled from service, it had been what had lost Nigel Vaughn’s Lumocorp so much money. It appears they hadn’t all been destroyed like the report had said. The question was, who would these DRN’s be when they were woken, innocent do-gooders like Dorian, or ruthless killers like Danica?
John knew he had to get away, and fast. He dropped down to the floor on the other side of the fence and hobbled away. A quick glance into the next street proved that the building in question wasn’t guarded there, and there didn’t appear to be anyone else in the street. He hurried away from the DRN warehouse as fast as he could, cutting down another alley and then another in case he was being followed from the subway. But the adrenaline that had spurred him to keep moving was soon all gone, and he began to slow, overtaken by pain and exhaustion. He staggered against a wall, tucking himself into the doorway of what had once been a shop, before his one good leg gave out at the knee and he crumpled to the floor. He wrapped his bare arms around his body, shivering in the cold and closed his eyes. Rest, just for a moment, he promised himself, even as he fought a battle with sleep, and lost.
Valerie Stahl watched her breath misting in the cold pre-dawn air and rubbed her hands in her arms to warm up. Winter was well on its way, most of the leaves had fallen from the trees by now and they were even forecasting snow for about a weeks time. It wasn’t a good time to be going anywhere, let alone into a desolate wasteland. She watched with trepidation and sympathy as Dorian and Maldonado checked their weapons and then zipped up their thick winter jacket, concealing them and protecting them against the chill.
Detective Richard Paul was stood with them, an old paper map spread out over the hood of their car. Stahl was impressed he’d managed to find one, they’d stopped making them decades ago. He’d drawn the boundary wall in with black marker, the map predating the war. “I’ve marked out the areas to avoid.” He was saying, pointing to large areas he’d drawn out, big ellipses in red, red crosses in the middle. “The crosses are where the bombs hit and the circles are the ‘hot-zones’, where they believe were the worst places for fallout, based on recorded weather patterns and the intel we got back from refugees. It’s not guaranteed and they think nowhere is really safe.” He pointed out. He gave Maldonado a tense look. “Captain, you shouldn’t be going.” It was an argument all three of them had had with her at some point in the last eighteen hours, since she’d first told them her plan.
“I’m not leaving him there.” She said firmly.
“It’s suicide.” Paul’s voice was pleading. “Let Dorian go, he won’t be affected. We can get him some MX’s to back him up. I’m sure Rudy can take them off the network.”
“You really think that MX’s will be able to do what needs to be done out there?” The Captain argued. She took the map from Paul and folded it up, slipping it into the inner pocket of her parka.
Valerie knew that the older woman wouldn’t be swayed. She retrieved the backpacks she’d arranged from the trunk and handed them over. She could stand there and argue like Paul, but in the end it would be pointless and only waste valuable time. “I’ve packed sleeping bags, a first aid kit, food and water, and a spare set of clothes for each of you.” She explained. “Dorian, I know you don’t need them but it might be handy to pretend you do. I’m not sure how they’ll react if they find out you’re an android. Besides, I doubt the Captain will want to share her sleeping bag with John when you find him.” She said with a lot more confidence than she felt, faking a small smile. “There’s extra ammunition in the side pockets. Dorian, you have a portable solar charger in your bag. Rudy says it won’t be able to charge you in a hurry, he recommends you shut off all unnecessary functions to stop you from draining your battery too fast.” She tapped the small plastic panel that was clipped to the top as she handed one first to Maldonado and the other to Dorian. Dorian’s bag, with the charger and most of the water in it, was really heavy. Thankfully, the android would have no problem carrying it. “He’s also given you a signal booster. It should give you a range of about 500 miles outside of your usual satellite comms.”
Maldonado nodded. “We’ll check in with you every twelve hours. It might be best if you wait to hear from us, it’ll save Dorian’s battery if we keep comms offline until needed.”
She waited for them both to put their packs on and adjust the straps before placing a small orange pill bottle in the Captain’s gloved hand, closing the older woman’s fingers round it and holding her hand for a moment in a gesture of support. When she drew her hand away, the Captain looked down at the bottle.
“Cipro.” Valerie explained. “It’s the best thing to counter radiation poisoning, although you still shouldn’t take any chances. Take one, three times a day, with food if possible. When you find John, make sure you get him started on them too, as soon as possible.”
“These are prescription meds.” Captain Maldonado pointed out. “Where did you get them from?”
Valerie shook her head, “It’s best you don’t know.”
Maldonado popped the lid, shook one out into her hand and swallowed it dry. “Thank you.” She nodded grimly. “We’d better get going.”
“Good luck.” Valerie said to them both, suddenly finding herself a little upset.
It was Dorian who pulled her into a tight hug, “We’ll get John back.” He promised firmly.
“Be careful.” Paul instructed them both as Dorian pulled away and the pair of them made their way over to the wall of the breakers yard compound that John and Dorian had scaled days before. Dorian knelt and laced his fingers together, Maldonado stepped into his hands and he boosted the small woman up with ease. She gripped the top of the wall and hauled herself up, disappearing over the other side with surprising ease.
“Hey Dorian.” Paul said, just before the DRN disappeared. “Look after them both.”
Dorian nodded. “I will.” And then he was gone.
Valerie and Richard went back to the car and sat in the passenger and driver’s seat respectively. The silence was awkward, neither one wanting to dwell on where their colleagues were heading. Paul drove away and headed back towards the city centre. “It’s almost four, did you have plans to go back to bed? I could drop you home.”
Valerie shook her head. “We start at seven, it’s hardly worth it. Besides, I don’t think I could sleep anyway.”
Paul nodded in agreement and took a decisive turn, clearly with a destination in mind. Valerie didn’t ask where they were going, just watched the buildings as they sped by, her mind caught up in thoughts of the other side of the wall. She knew she’d been given a job to do, that she was needed to stay where she was, but it didn’t stop her from feeling guilty for not joining her boss on her suicide mission. Or for stopping her from going in the first place. She felt so conflicted by it, the desire to save John was weighed heavily against the risks that the older woman was taking to do it. They had no way of knowing where he was, or even if he was still alive.
She hadn’t noticed they’d come to a stop until the car door slammed, drawing her out of her thoughts. She realised that Paul had pulled up outside a little all-night diner and had left the car, waiting patiently for her to join him so they could go inside. She got out and followed him. He opened the door and held it open to allow her through in an uncharacteristically gentlemanly manner. As she stepped into the warm little diner she was hit with the smell of fresh coffee and pastries. She hadn’t thought she was hungry but it was making her mouth water and she realised she’d barely eaten the day before.
Paul smiled at the young tanned skinned woman behind the counter and wished her a good morning. She smiled at him and glanced at the clock, “Late night or early morning?” She asked with a smile. “You’ve gotta stop burning the candle at both ends Richard, it’ll make your hair fall out!”
“Ha, ha. Very funny.” Paul smirked, as he ran his hand over his shaven head, but the smile was genuine. “You keep talking to your paying customers that way and I’ll tell your mother.”
The young woman shrugged and pressed some coffee from the grinder into the espresso filters on the large Italian coffee machine. “You want your usual?”
“Yes, please, times two.” He replied and wove his way through the tightly packed tables to an empty booth.
Valerie followed him, surprised to see that despite it being just after four in the morning, the place was half full. There was a real mix of people, a few clearly were having breakfast before an early start at the office and were dressed in suits, there was a group of about eight men towards the front dressed in warm, battered clothing and work boots, hi-viz jackets slung over the backs of their chairs, wolfing down bacon and eggs before a construction shift, and there were other groups, who were loud and dressed to party. They’d clearly been out drinking and had yet to make it home.
The booth that Paul had picked was at the quieter end of the compact little restaurant, he’d chosen a seat in the corner, giving him a clear view of the rest of the room, in particular the exit. It was a habit she’d noticed in John too, the ever-present need to stay vigilant, something picked up from their days as a beat cop. Valerie was sometimes ashamed of the fact it was one she’d never had time to pick up herself. As a chrome, with a Masters degree in Criminology and almost perfect academy scores, she’d been put on the fast-track promotion scheme. She’d done barely six months in uniform before making detective, something that most others had to wait years for the opportunity to even try for. The expectation had been that she’d be there just long enough to see how it worked before making her way up the promotions ladder. She’d been eager too, she knew she was capable of it and it go some way to proving to her parents that she’d made a sensible career choice after all. But she’d changed her mind. She’d come to realise that she could be the best analyst there was, see patterns of behaviour, know legislation and policy by heart and yet still that would be no match for experience. Officers like Kennex, Paul and Maldonado had gotten to where they were through hard work and experience and were valued all the more for it. She knew that she wanted to be the same, so when the time came to do the sergeants exam she politely declined. One day, she promised herself, when she could truly say she’d earned it.
“Ordering for me?” She smiled as she sat down opposite the shorter detective. “Pretty presumptuous don’t you think?”
Paul just grinned at her, “You’ll thank me, breakfast of champions.”
And as if on cue, it was delivered by the young waitress. She had two huge mugs of latte coffee and a couple of plates stacked up with an array of pastries. “Wow,” Valerie smiled, “everything looks delicious, thank you.” She thanked the girl.
“Let me know if you need anything else.” She smiled and returned to behind the counter.
“Nancy and her mom are from the local reservation but have been running this place for years. And her stepdad is an Italian pastry chef. You have to try the cannoli.” He said picking one up and biting into it, sending a cloud of icing sugar everywhere.
“You must spend a lot of time in here.” Valerie smiled, selecting a croissant from the pile.
Paul shrugged, “Every cop from three districts comes here. There aren’t many places open for the night shift, and this is certainly the best of them.”
Valerie nodded, just another reminder that she didn’t quite fit in with rest of them. The croissant was really good. Paul had wolfed down the cannoli already and was licking the sugar from his fingers while he considered which offering he would attack next. “So, you made any headway with John’s investigation?”
“Er, not really.” She sighed. “I spent a long time running round yesterday, trying to get supplies for the captain. And I don’t know about you, but I felt I was being watched all day at work once the Captain left. I had a quick look but it’s really only a mind map, stuff to jog his memory, with no way to tell how he got to those conclusions. If he had anything evidential then it wasn’t on his computer.”
Paul nodded. “Pity. But if he found the connection, then we’ll find it too. We just have to join the dots.”
“Unless it’s something to do with his memories. Did you know he was seeing a Recollectionist?”
Paul shook his head.
“I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, it’s just so dangerous.”
“Are you seeing a theme here?” Paul said tersely, “Our superiors seem to have a fondness for reckless crusades.”
“The Captain is going to rescue her friend. I can only hope I inspire half that dedication in my friends.” She said firmly wanting that to be the end of it. Paul had been far too vocal on the subject in the last few days and she wasn’t prepared to hear it again.
Unwilling to discuss the contents of John’s investigation in public, their conversation turned to office gossip. By the time they had to go to work they’d finished their pastries and had three mugs of coffee each. Valerie sat at her desk almost jittery with caffeine. Paul, incredibly, went to find another mug of coffee before he got going. She usually saw a heavy work load as a challenge, took a weird little pleasure in having a big long ‘to do’ list and crossing things off it as she worked through them. Today though, they just seemed insurmountable, and all she wanted to do was go home and research John’s stuff.
She picked a few of the easier jobs to get completed, contact victims, request some CCTV from a nightclub regarding a murder, believed to have been a robbery gone wrong, and arranging for an MX to retrieve it. By 0900hrs she’d updated six victims, had updated all her crime reports with current progress, had a convinced a witness to come in later in the day for interview and updated her crime reports with her ongoing progress. A forensic report pinged up in her inbox and she started going through the results. It was for a home invasion, an elderly male had been beaten almost to death while a group of three masked males had taken everything. The victim was still in intensive care and wasn’t doing well, which is why if had come across her desk. It had the potential to become a murder investigation and so should be treated as such to prevent loss of time and evidence.
But as much as she felt for the old man who had been attacked, she was finding it hard to concentrate. They’d been relying on forensics, and it looked like they weren’t going to get anything. Without them, they had little else to go on, no witnesses, no camera footage, nothing in the victim’s history to suggest he’d been targeted by anyone other than opportunists looking to take advantage of someone vulnerable. She hated closing cases without solving them but it looked like she might have to this time.
Her thoughts turned to other things, things that might get more satisfactory results, and potentially save someone at the same time. She’d been intrigued by a few of the things that John had noted down, the Parisian riots, the Italian PM’s assassination, but these were all things that she could start on at home. One of them read simply ‘What’s Bochen?’, with no clue as to where he had come across the name. She was thinking of abandoning her demotivating forensic report and running Bochen through the systems to see what came up. She was about to do it when a pair of suited, stern faced people entered the floor.
The woman, who was slightly overweight in her mid-forties, flashed a badge at the occupants of the room who had all looked up at their entrance. “Good morning.” She greeted, coldly. “My colleague and I are from Internal Affairs, could you please point out to me which terminal belongs to a Detective Sergeant John Kennex?”
“Can I ask what this is about?” Paul asked, hands on his hips, ready to make a stand.
Unfortunately, at exactly the same time is MX said, “Detective Kennex’s terminal is here.” Indicating the correct desk and computer system.
The woman nodded, “Thank you.” She said to the MX and ignored Detective Paul. The woman sat down at the desk and fired up the computer. The male of the two, a thin, haggard man who looked like he should have retired years previously headed straight for Captain Maldonado’s office.
“With all due respect…” Paul started. Valerie knew he was about to say something that proved there was no respect at all. “…you can’t just barge in here and access secure terminals without telling us what is going on.”
“I am not in the business of discussing active investigations Detective.” She said harshly. “It’s regrettable that at this time you do not have a commanding officer in this department, but I assure you that a replacement for Sandra Maldonado is being arranged and they should be with you as soon as possible. In the meantime, I suggest you get on with your work and allow us to get on with ours.”
John woke to the sensation of something wet on his forehead. It was warm and soothing but as it brought him back to awareness, it brought back the awareness of pain as well. He opened his eyes, unsure what to expect, and looked up into the face of a dark-skinned woman with wild afro hair spilling down to her shoulders like a mane. It was dark, but someone had lit a fire and the orange glow flickered over her features. She smiled down at him, making her eyes crinkle at the corners. Her face was lined, life had not been kind to her, but there was a beauty there as well. To John, who had been expecting to find himself recaptured, she had an essence of angel about her.
She had a cloth in her hands, which she dipped in a bowl of warm water, wrung out and then smoothed it across his face again, across his bloodied nose and his eyes which were still swollen mostly shut. She saw he was about to move and stopped him. “Hold still,” she said gently, although it was an order rather than a suggestion, “you’ve been badly hurt.”
John did as he was told and forced himself to relax back. He was laying on an old mattress on the floor, the woman was knelt on the floor beside his makeshift bed, dressed in old jeans and a faded hoodie that she’d rolled the sleeves up on while she tended to him. She was skinny, undernourished, but emanated a calm strength too. He looked around the room and noticed he wasn’t the only one, there were other mattresses laid out in rows on the floor, a lot of them occupied. Someone was moaning quietly at the far end of the room, someone else was talking quietly with a young man who was sat on the floor beside them, most were asleep. He’d been placed in the corner of the room, nearest the crackling fire that had been lit in a fireplace that looked out of place with the rest of the décor, clearly built at a later date, no doubt out of a necessity to keep the new residents warm.
As his gaze drifted up he noticed carved stone pillars and a large vaulted ceiling. The carvings were all of people, various scenes telling a story. At the end of the room was a giant wooden crucifix, a sacrificed and bloody Jesus looking down sadly upon them all. John wasn’t a believer, not many people these days were, but the carving looked like he was studying the scene below him with a sad expression of disappointment. It was as though whoever carved it knew what was going to happen, that the son of God had sacrificed himself knowing that humanity was going to disappoint and destroy themselves anyway.
He brought his attention back to himself and the woman who was carefully cleaning the dirt and grime from him. He’d been stripped down to his boxers, and had been carefully covered with a heavy, worn blanket. It had been thick and fluffy once, but that had been a long time ago and now there were patches that had worn right through, reminding him of a dog with mange. His clothes had been piled on the floor at the end of his mattress and his prosthetic leg had been removed, he couldn’t see it anywhere. His body; battered, bruised and burned felt heavy but he surmised that was as the result of exhaustion rather than any medication. He hoped that if he’d actually been given any painkillers that it would hurt a lot less.
“Where am I?” He asked, his voice shaky.
“The Cathedral of Our Mother of Mercy.” She smiled at him. “You were found on the street, by friends of ours. At first they thought you were dead, you were so cold. But they brought you anyway. You’re safe here.”
“Why bring me here?”
“Do they not have charity where you’re from?”
“Well yes, but…”
“Then you know why. It is our duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves.”
John laughed, his throat raw, making it sound harsher than intended, “I never saw myself as one of the unfortunate ones.”
The woman smiled back, “The selfless ones never do. I know you come from the other side. Your leg,” she indicated the void under the sheets where his right limb should be, “is expensive, it’s clear you have money, even for someone on that side of the wall.”
“Actually, just a few good friends.” John smiled, thinking of the look on Dorian’s face the day he’d given him the gift of the top of the line synthetic limb. Had he shown him enough gratitude for it then? He couldn’t remember, but he hoped so.
“But it’s clear you’ve suffered more than your share of tragedy too.” The woman continued, “Not least whatever has happened to you lately.”
John propped himself up on his elbows, the movement pulling on his cracked ribs and the burns in his back. It caused the blanket to fall away slightly and he could see the dark bruising on his chest. “Where is my leg?”
“I’ve hidden it.” She whispered ominously, “it’s not a good idea for everyone to know where you came from.”
The woman had finished washing his face and moved her ministrations down to his chest and stomach. She helped him sit up then, and started washing his back. All the cuts and burns stung as she worked the dirt out of the wounds, he could feel fresh blood well up and trickle down his skin. But it felt good to be cared for, he thought sadly, even by a complete stranger. It had been a long time since anyone had touched him so gently, and how pathetic did that make him?
He could feel his thoughts begin to take a dark turn, in the way they had so often in the days since he woke from the coma and he pulled back from them. Get over it! He told himself gruffly. You’re just tired! The depression that had threatened to overwhelm him at times during his recovery, was much more easily managed these days, and only really came to the surface when he was too exhausted to keep it at bay. With a little bit of self-awareness he found he could stop himself before he got too caught up in despair, he needed a distraction. “What’s your name?” He asked, spying a second wash cloth, folded neatly beside a pile of bandages. He picked it up and soaked it, scrubbing the blood and dirt from his arms, being a little too rough with the multitude of wounds; the gunshot graze, the gouged skin from his GPS removal, the deep furrows in his wrists from his bonds. Pain is good, he reminded himself, it’s proof you survived.
“Carrie.” She answered, she watched the way he was cleaning himself with disapproval but didn’t say anything. He soaked the washcloth back in the bowl and it turned the water pink as blood seeped out of the material.
“I’m John.” He answered. “Have you always worked here?”
“Since I was a child. I’m actually Muslim,” she explained, “But a lot of the Mosques were burned down during the war. Afterwards, this place opened their doors up to everyone as a place of worship. There are people of all faiths here, some have no faith at all, just a desire to put a little good back into the world.” John started to realise that she was younger than he’d thought, perhaps around his own age. Growing up on the other side of the wall had definitely taken its toll, but then he supposed he hardly looked his usual fresh-faced self at this current moment either.
John looked round again at the masses of bed stretched out through the large church. “There’s a lot of people here.”
She nodded sadly, “We run a day clinic, try and teach people to look after their sick family members in their own home, but it’s not always that easy. The people here have no one to look after them, or their families can no longer cope with the level of care they need. We try to do what we can for them but…”
“They’re dying.” John finished in a low whisper, so that the others wouldn’t hear.
“Not all of them, but yes.”
There was a bang of a heavy door slamming outside and a couple of shouts. Both Carrie and John tensed up at the noise, had John had both legs he would have leapt to his feet. The other patients in the room froze in fear, some cowered under their blankets.
“Shit!” A woman cursed and then strode into the large room. She was a young, slim woman, dressed in black jeans and a padded jacket with heavy combat boots, carrying an old assault rifle with the casual ease of someone who was used to being heavily armed. A quick glance at her and John recognised similar features to Carrie.
“What’s happening?” Carrie demanded. “You’re hurt.” She said, noticing the tear in her jacket at her hip, the area around it shiny with blood.
“I’m fine.” The younger woman was furious. “Where are the others? We’ve got company.” She was already striding through the rows of sick people to the back of the room. “Hey,” she called out to a room at the back. “We need a hand out here!” She was joined by a few grim-faced men and women. They each carried some form of weapon, baseball bats, a tire iron, one had a blunt and rusty katana that looked like it would struggle to chop vegetables let alone anything else.
John opened his mouth to ask what was happening, when the door banged again and a group of men entered brandishing an assortment of guns.
“Where is it?” One of them yelled.
“We’ve run out.” The younger woman spat, “The drop wasn’t there today. We don’t have any more!”
“So where’s your buddy? You were with a man when we followed you here.”
“He’s gone home.” She said carefully.
“You mean he’s hiding the drugs?”
“There are no drugs!” The younger woman argued.
Carrie stood up, almost knocking the bowl of water over. “You heard her, we are out of drugs. Now get out of here, you’re scaring my patients!”
The man raised his weapon and fired. John reacted before anyone else was able, wrapping his arms around the slim woman’s waist and dragging her down to the mattress with him, rolling over to shield her with his body. The bullet that had been intended for her head, impacted into the stone wall, showering them with grains of plaster and stone.
“No!” The younger woman yelped, before realising Carrie had been unharmed. John could hear Carrie’s heart pounding against his chest as she lay beneath him.
“Let’s try this again!” The trigger-happy man said. “I know you got the shipment. Now give us the drugs or I’ll start relieving you of your patients. Starting with him.”
John glanced over his shoulder to see what he already suspected, that the man’s weapon was trained on him.
“Wait!” Another man shouted, appearing from the front doorway. He had a rifle slung on his back but held a large plastic crate in his arms. He set the crate down at his feet and stepped back his hands in the air. John realised with horror that he knew him. It was the man he’d been following that lead him into this mess in the first place. John kept his head down, suddenly convinced that the man would recognise him.
“Will…” The woman said, her voice filled with dismay.
“That’s better.” The thug with the gun said, with a quick tilt of the head he got two of his lackeys to grab the heavy crate and then the group started to move out of the building slowly.
“At least one of you has got some sense. Next time, let your man Will do the talking Soph and maybe we can do this without any bloodshed.” The man strode out backwards and left with his entourage. The rest of the room heaved a collective sigh of relief.
“Sis, are you alright?” The younger woman crouched down to them as John rolled himself painfully off the other woman.
“I’m fine Sophie.” Carrie sat up and brushed the plaster out of her hair.
“Carrie’s lucky you were here.” The man, Will said, joining them and holding out his hand for John to shake, he balked when he got a better look at him. “Good God man! What the hell happened to you?”
John gulped, this was it, he was about to be found out.
“John was set upon by bandits as he was travelling west. They thought he had a camp nearby so they tied him up and tortured him.” Carrie said hastily. “He was found by Nick and Raj this afternoon, having crawled here.”
Will gave him a searching look, “Well thank God they found you.” He said, breaking into a warm smile. “What sends you west? It’s can’t have been easy, especially with your…” he gestured, to the empty space under the blanket. “…Christ! Did the bandits chop your leg off?”
John smiled wearily, “No, that’s an old injury. Hurt it crawling here though. I normally get by on crutches, but they broke them.” He said, deflecting the question about why he was travelling. He knew he would likely be asked again at some point, but he was sure he could come up with a convincing story by then.
Sophie had stood and was staring round the room at the patients, many of whom were whispering worriedly amongst themselves. “What are we going to do?” She asked, clearly upset. “Will, we should’ve found a way to get rid of them without giving them anything.”
“Like what Soph?” He sighed, running a hand through his hair, “They nearly killed your sister.”
“Yeah, but without those drugs…” she truly looked defeated.
“We’ll get more.” Will said, “I’ll speak to my friend, get another shipment in. We’ll make it work, I promise.”
“Let me look at you.” Carrie said, clasping her sister’s hand. “You’re hurt.”
“It’s just a graze.” She said, lifting her jacket up to show her sister her hip. There was a deep gash going through the flesh just above her hip bone. “You’ve got a patient that needs you more than me.” She indicated John.
“Come on,” Will said, grabbing one of the smaller trauma bandages from the pile beside John before slinging an arm over Sophie’s shoulder and guiding her towards the rooms at the back. “I’ll patch her up for you.”
“Thanks Will.” Carrie said before turning back to John. “Right, are you ready for me to have a look at this leg?” She drew back the blanket carefully and they both winced at what they saw. The metal socket that had been surgically attached to the stump was burned and blackened, all the circuits completely fried. The burns extended into the surrounding flesh which had charred under the intense heat, bits of cooked flesh flaked off, exposing raw tissue underneath, the damage stretching up to just under the hem of his grey boxer shorts.
John felt sick looking at it and also a little gratified, I knew it hurt, he told himself, the level of damage proving to himself that he hadn’t just been a wimp when he’d dragging himself through that tunnel wanting to cry.
Carrie inspected it clinically. “This is going to need debridement.” She said, carefully watching his expression. “And the last of our painkillers have just gone with that asshole and his gang of thieves.”
John nodded, swallowing back the sudden wave of fear at the imminent pain. “Just do what you gotta do.”
She nodded and made her way over to a cupboard on the other side the room while John inspected his wound morbidly. When she came back she had a tray with a scalpel and tweezers on it.
“Ready?” She asked. John lay back down and closed his eyes, he gave her a nod. She went to work with the cleansing cloth and the scalpel. The first touch was agony and he almost bit down on his tongue while he tried not to scream.
“I’m sorry.” She said, pausing while he caught his breath.
He shook his head. “Don’t be sorry. Just get on with it. Tell me, why did you lie to Will about where I’m from?”
She carried on with her ministrations, “Because you saved my life. Will’s a good guy, he’s our supplier for drugs from the other side of the wall.” She shrugged, “He doesn’t always run it up to us here, but we’ve lost a few guys lately so he came over to make sure it got here safely.”
“Guess that didn’t work, huh?”
“We’ve been having a lot of problems with gangs trying to steal our stuff, they sell it on at extortionate prices, more money than anyone this side of the wall has, but there’s a lot of people who would sell their soul for cancer drugs. Anyway, like I said, Will’s a good guy, but he’s not all that trusting. Whatever you did on the other side, that ended with you winding up here in the state you’re in? It’s probably better for you that Will doesn’t know about it.”
“Would you believe me if I told you I didn’t do anything bad?” John asked through gritted teeth.
“I’d like to,” she said, “truth is, I guess there’s a lot of mistrust to go around.”
“Where’d Will get the drugs from?”
“He’s part of this organisation, they look after us, supply us with what we need, when they can. A lot of people round here work for them.”
“InSyndicate?” John asked.
“You’ve heard of them? I’m not surprised, Will says they do a lot of work on the other side, he doesn’t like to talk about it much, but he says they have big plans that will make our lives better.”
Yeah, I’ll bet he doesn’t like to talk about it, he thought bitterly, but managed to refrain from saying anything. The pain of the debridement was getting worse and then the next slice with the scalpel had him crying out. Dark spots danced in front of his eyes as his vision faded. The rest was a blur as he slipped in and out of consciousness. He had a brief period of lucidity when he felt a small hand clasping his tightly. He opened his swollen eyes a crack to see Sophie, holding his hand to her chest while she stroked his sweat soaked hair from his forehead. In another moment, the younger sister was carefully bandaging his wrists, while the older still worked on removing the dead tissue from his stump. After that he faded into true blackness and then there was nothing.
Sandra Maldonado shuffled further down into her sleeping bag to keep the cold out and listened to the wind howl through the abandoned house. It was early, a grey light just starting to seep through the ragged curtains, she could see through a gap in the fabric to a light grey sky that threatened snow. That would be the last thing they needed, it was tough enough already. They'd spent the last two days walking, all day, until she'd almost dropped. She normally took good care of herself, but despite this, her legs ached, her back was sore from the pack and her old hiking boots had given her blisters. Even though she'd been exhausted, she'd hardly managed to get any sleep, too cold and too anxious about the road ahead.
She hadn't known what to expect, but it hadn't quite been this. As soon as they were over the wall they'd hunted through the ruins of the old town for anyone they could find. When the war had happened, Sandra had been already into the first year of her service with the police force. Suddenly the place where she worked and the place where she'd grown up had been split in two. It had been a surreal concept but it had begun as a war of words and trade embargoes between opposing governments and no one had really expected it to affect day to day life in the way that it did. Maldonado had policed a great many protests that year and they'd been attended by people on both sides of the border. They were friends and neighbours, marching together in unison against government policies that, at best, only about half the country agreed with. The descent into nuclear war was unexpected and even as people had been fleeing their homes, the rest of the world had watched events unfold with utter disbelief.
Sandra had been working the day that the nukes had been launched, but she'd dropped everything she was doing when she'd heard. Thankfully it hadn't taken much to convince her partner and they'd sped over the bridge against the stream of traffic, ignoring the jams and road rage as panicked people tried to get as far away from the fallout zones as possible. The cell phone network was down so she couldn't call ahead but despite this, by the time she'd pulled the squad car up outside her parent's townhouse, her mother had packed them a suitcase and she was trying to get her own elderly father dressed. Sandra's grandfather had had a stroke the year before and had moved in with her parents, her mother giving up work to care for him. Sandra and her partner just finished bundling the pair of them into the back of the squad when her father arrived, having rushed home from work. She'd only felt slightly guilty for using her blue lights and sirens to jump traffic, hightailing it back over the border with her family in the back, her mother sat in the middle, holding her father and her grandfather's hands as they silently prayed. It was the last time she'd seen the house she'd grown up in. Her parents had worked themselves to the bone to provide a comfortable life and in an instant they'd been reduced to one bag, containing a few changes of clothes each, medication and a memory card of family photos. At first she'd thought it ridiculous that her mother had taken the time to download the pictures but once they were over the other side and Sandra had her family safely ensconced in her small one bedroom apartment, she was glad of those photos. They were the last bit of evidence of their old happy life. Now that her grandfather and father were gone, and her mother's memory was becoming increasingly vague, she found those photos were the greatest thing she owned.
Once they'd crossed under the wall, it had been tempting to go back to her old house, to see what had become of it, but she pushed the thought aside. Maybe on the way back, she told herself, if John was okay and neither of them were suffering any effects of the radiation. That was a big 'if', she knew, surely if John was okay he would have made his way back by now.
She heard gentle footsteps and rolled over to see Dorian come back inside and stamp snow off his boots. He had a plastic travel mug in his hands and held it out to her, it was steaming. She sat up on the sofa she'd been sleeping on, making room for the android and took it gratefully, cradling the mug in her cold hands. She took a sip, inside was sugary black coffee, not how she normally drank it but in the absence of milk it would do.
"I found a camping stove in the garage." He explained.
"Thank you." Sandra smiled at him, "it's just what I needed."
He smiled at her then, "There was something better in the garage. There's a car in there, and it still works."
"What?" She exclaimed with excitement. Initially they'd expected to find a car quickly, and while a lot of people near the border had managed to drive across to safety in the early days, there were still no shortage of vehicles. The problem was that after thirty years of being exposed to fallout and the elements, a lot of them had rusted beyond use, what little fuel was left had dried and coated the tank and the fuel lines, breaks had seized and electronics had calcified. Which is why they'd been walking for two days, checking each car they came across and being sorely disappointed. Sandra had started to give up on ever finding one, but Dorian checked anyway. They knew that as they got closer to the blast sites finding a working vehicle would be even harder as many would likely have been destroyed by the electromagnetic pulse that would have been emitted by the nuclear attack. There were cars still in existence though, probably originating far from the blast zones, a truck had driven passed them on their first day, the cab piled with people. They'd tried to flag them down, get information, but the group had looked at them suspiciously and driven on.
"Come look at this Captain." Dorian said, gesturing for her to follow.
"How many times do I have to tell you to call me Sandra?" She asked, wriggling out of her sleeping bag. Dorian rolled her sleeping bag into its pouch as she eased her aching feet into her hiking boots. Her socks stank and were crusted with blood where her ankle had been rubbed raw, but she was determined to get one more days wear out of them at least. She was saving her change of clothes for when she was really desperate.
The house they'd spent the night in was small and had once been well cared for, although it was showing the ravages of neglect now. It was in a tiny town, that had comprised of three streets and presumably the surrounding farms. It had been picked purely because it had been the first house they had come to in a while and Sandra had been struggling to put one foot in front of the other for some time. Dorian had made the decision to stay the night and Sandra had been too exhausted to disagree despite her determination to keep going.
She followed Dorian into the garage that was attached to the side of the house and gasped as she walked in. Inside was like a treasure trove. The garage was large and full to the brim with packed shelves. In the centre was the car that Dorian had mentioned, a beat up old British Land Rover, the kind that had once been used as military vehicles during the twentieth century. It was practically an antique, Sandra had never seen a vehicle so old outside of a museum.
"This thing runs?" She said sceptically.
Dorian nodded. "Modern vehicles are full of electronics, these days they can't run without them, but this has almost no electronic components, less to go wrong during an EMP. It wasn't turned on during the blast and as a result everything survived intact. And whomever lived here was prepared, the garage is lead-lined, the fuel and oil has been cleaned out, it's been treated with anti-rust, the garage itself has been sealed from damp. And look at everything else in here."
Sandra did look. She'd been so in awe of the car that she hadn't until then. The shelves were stacked full of supplies, jerry cans of what she hoped was fuel, camping equipment, tins of food and bags of dried pasta and rice, bottles of water. "You know, growing up, I used to think people like this were paranoid." She said, looking over the tins of soup, tomatoes, chilli, spam and an assortment of fruits. Their use by dates had all passed nearly three decades ago but the cans hadn't gone rusty so presumably they were still edible. Her stomach grumbled at the thought, they still had food left but they'd been rationing, worried about making it last. Dorian had already loaded up the back of the Land Rover full of supplies and had a can of chilli bubbling on the stove he'd set up on the garage floor.
"There was a time when people thought that nuclear war was inevitable." Dorian pointed out.
Sandra nodded, "Yeah, my grandparents said that they used to have to practice hiding under school desks in case of a nuclear attack, ridiculous when you realise that very little would have saved them and certainly not a thin piece of wood. But we thought we'd evolved beyond using them, no one believed that people were still capable of that much destruction, not least our own government, and on a neighbour too. I still couldn't believe it, even when it was happening."
"I found this too." Dorian said, showing her a desk and old chair. On it was an old CB radio surrounded by scattered burned out wiring, a pair of wire cutters and a screwdriver. Laid out over the top of it all was a paper OS map with a series of numbers scrawled on the bottom in blue pen. A big arrow was drawn on it too, at the coordinates the numbers referred to. The arrow had been etched in deeply like whomever had drawn it had gone over it again and again whether in excitement of frustration it was hard to tell. The neat printed lettering beside it had been underlined too, 'Montreal'.
"Why Montreal?" Sandra wondered aloud.
Dorian went to his pack that he'd stored in the back of the Land Rover and pulled out the map that they'd taken with them, laying them side by side. "It's outside the affected areas." The huge red marks encircled the old capital, Ottawa and the much nearer Toronto, the affected areas ellipses stretching south west, the result of the radiation having drifted that way on the wind.
"That's a long way. It's going to be even longer if detour to get around the blast zones." Sandra commented, studying the map. "I wonder how much it's still contaminated."
"We have a vehicle and we have the fuel now." Dorian said. "I want John back too but he might not even be there. You shouldn't risk your health going through when we can go around."
"He's got to be there." Sandra said, "It's the only place that makes sense."
"I hope you're right." Dorian said, folding the maps up.
They finished packing up and Sandra sat in the passenger seat with the hot-zone map laid out on her lap as she ate the chilli straight from the can. Dorian started the grumbling engine and they slowly pulled out of the garage, stopping to lock it down tight, taking the key with them. It would be a useful cache for the journey home. They drove in a comfortable silence, Sandra's thoughts occupied with the house that they'd just left behind and what had happened to its owner. She hoped they'd found a way out of this desolate nightmare but it seemed unlikely, not without taking the vehicle and supplies with them.
The Land Rover groaned and rattled over the potholed road, Dorian having to wrangle the steering wheel to keep it straight, but there was a sense of comfort and safety in the ancient vehicle that they'd not had on the road. Sandra checked the glove compartment and found it filled with old cassette tapes, of the kind her parents had kept from their childhood. She sorted through them before pulling out a familiar looking one and popping it into the player in the centre of the console. There was a crackle before the machine settled down and the opening chords of the first song began to play accompanied by a gravelly voice, "Lights out tonight, Trouble in the heartland…"
As the old music accompanied the sounds of the road, she watched as the small, crumbling houses gave way to fields and then forest. They weren't the great, tall trees she was used to seeing, a lot looked withered and ill, but in amongst the dead and dying wood new life had begun to struggle through. They'd yet to see much in the way of life out here, but the young saplings that lined the road gave her hope that it persisted.
The song used in this is Badlands by Bruce Springsteen from the album Darkness On The Edge Of Town. It might sound obvious from the titles why I chose this song as Sandra and Dorian navigate their way through their own Badlands, but I guess it helps to be a Springsteen fan to get the full picture. If the Born To Run album is all about running away, hitting the road and hoping for a better life, then Darkness, the follow up album is bleaker, the characters have grown up a bit and have found escaping not easy, but in songs like Badlands they are still trying, they haven’t given up.
After the slow start of the first few days, they were now racing along. With a vehicle and a plan at last they both felt a renewed sense of hope. What they’d do when they got to Montreal was still undecided but they both felt they’d know when they got there. They’d driven all day, only stopping to switch out the driving so Dorian could power down for a few hours and use the solar charger that they’d strapped to the roof. In the first two days, they’d walked for about fourteen hours, barely stopping for more than the shortest of breaks. Dorian had been impressed with the Captain’s resiliency but when he’d finally convinced her to stop she’d collapsed each night into fitful dreams. He’d spent the nights making sure she ate something, stoking a fire to keep her warm and keeping watch, reluctantly waking her again at first light to carry on. He didn’t begrudge the arrangement, he knew that she was hurting and yet she’d carried on without a single complaint while he’d been getting more and more irritated as his power ran low. It had been a relief when she’d taken the wheel from him and he’d been able to use what little power was stored in the charger.
Now he was feeling better, not at 100 per cent but good enough and he was back at the wheel. Captain Maldonado was asleep in the passenger seat, her boots abandoned in the foot well, her socked feet propped up on the dashboard in a vain attempt to elevate them to reduce swelling. The cassette player was playing Wheel In The Sky quietly, and Dorian was singing along just under his breath, not wanting to wake his exhausted boss. It was nearing midnight now, the sun had set hours ago, and they were just starting to enter the built-up outskirts of Montreal.
They’d not seen anyone since the car they’d failed to flag down two days previously, but now signs of life were starting to show, a candle burning in a house window, or a car that looked more maintained than the rusted out wrecks they’d passed on the highway, and most tellingly, every available space seemed to be struggling to grow something. Gardens had been planted with vegetables, bigger spaces had wilted looking crops struggling in them. Nothing was flourishing, but they were trying and it suggested permanence and an attempt to make the best of things.
Dorian had shut off his peripheral systems to save energy, so he almost missed the man sat on his front steps were it not for the faint glow of a cigarette in the dark. He pulled up and got out of the car, but it caused the man to leap up and grab a shotgun from the step behind him, cocking it and aiming it at the android.
“Woah!” Dorian said gently, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“You ain’t gettin’ nuthin’,” he growled with a thick accent. “I won’t hesitate to shoot you.”
“We don’t want anything from you.” Dorian said again. “I just want to talk.”
The car door clicked open and the man flinched, waving his shotgun in the Land Rover’s direction, but he seemed to relax when Sandra Maldonado got out, in her blood-stained socks and sleep mussed hair.
“We’re looking for our friend.” She explained. “We’re worried about him, he could be injured.”
“Sorry about that.” The man said, lowering the shotgun but not releasing his firm grip of it. “You know how it is, and we’ve had a bit of trouble lately.”
“All this is yours?” Sandra gestured to the crops, “It’s impressive.”
He shrugged, “It’s the communities, we all work the land, we all fight to protect it.”
“From whom? Where did you say you’re from? From everyone!”
Dorian was about to answer when Sandra interrupted him. “You’re right. Sorry, it’s just been a while since we were in a city. We’ve been on the road.”
“It’s a good vehicle you got there. You should be careful goin’ further in. There’s plenty a folk who wouldn’t think twice about putting a bullet in yer t’ have it.”
“We’ll bare that in mind.”
“So… your friend, he know anyone in town?”
“No. But he may have gotten in trouble with some people.”
The man shook his head sadly. “You might want to try St Emmanuel’s, there’s still a few doctors working there, if he’s hurt he may have wound up there. It’s signposted from the highway.”
Dorian nodded and jogged round to get back into the Land Rover. “We really appreciate it.” Sandra smiled, getting back in. The man gave them a half-hearted wave goodbye as they pulled away. Dorian watched him in the rear-view mirror as he sat down and secured his shotgun beside him again.
They drove on, as they got further into the city, houses with gardens made way for apartment blocks and high-rises. Broken down cars and litter was strewn across the streets, the walls covered with graffiti. There were more people out too, despite the lateness of the hour. They passed a group who were huddled round a trash can fire, passing a bottle of clear liquid around. All five of them stopped their conversation and stared as the Land Rover drove passed. Sandra flipped the locks down on her door, clearly cautious of the man’s warning. Dorian’s eyes flicked down to the handgun he had secured in his shoulder holster, making sure his jacket was undone enough to provide him with easy access. He found himself more than ever wishing that John was with them, he missed the reassuring smirk John would give every time they were about to hurtle themselves into danger.
They made it through without incident, turning downtown towards the river. There was someone moving along hurriedly, hands in pockets, head down, in a rush to get home. Someone else sprawled at the mouth of an alley, blood stains on their shirt, Dorian almost got out to help but a quick scan told him that the young man was dead. A couple walked along the same street, arms linked together, stepping round the body without even a second glance. Then, they heard music coming from an old pub, lit with candles, the soft sounds of a live guitar, no amplifier, barely cutting through the noise of the crowd. Another sign of life, a house lit with candles, a smash of glass and a woman screaming, “Get out of here you asshole!” Dorian and Maldonado exchanged glances but they weren’t cops this far from the border and knew their interference wouldn’t be appreciated, they drove on.
When they got to St Emmanuel’s Hospital it was clear they’d come to the right place. Here, unlike anywhere else they’d seen actually had light, electric light, although most of it was still in darkness to save energy. As they pulled up, so did another car, screeching to a halt outside the front doors to the Emergency department. A young woman got out, clearly in distress and went to the back seat, whispering in a panicked voice to whomever was in the back. Dorian leapt out of the Land Rover and rushed over, Sandra hot on his heels.
“Help me, help me.” The woman, was in her twenties, with ripped jeans and a faded oversized coat, dark hair scraped into a messy ponytail. She had tears streaked down her dirty face. “It’s my mom.”
As Dorian got to the back seat he could see a thin woman laid across the back seats, struggling to get up. She looked gaunt, almost skeletal, all the hair gone from her head including her eyebrows and lashes. Dorian crouched by the open door of the beat up old car and reached in to help her. He slid his arms around the woman, under her knees and across her back and lifted her into his arms, she was so light.
“Oh my god, thank you so much!” The woman was sobbing, “She’s really sick, I need to get her to a doctor.”
“We will.” Sandra promised, placing a comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, we’ll help you.”
The woman nodded and lead the way into the hospital. Dorian carried the older woman with ease as she slipped in and out of awareness, as he did he ran a scan of her, stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, her body was riddled with tumours. It was something that was treated easily on the other side of the wall, they’d had a ninety percent success rate for over four decades now, but with the state the woman was currently in, Dorian didn’t hold out much hope for her.
The Emergency room was chaos, with concerned looking people huddled in it, taking up most of the available space. Dorian couldn’t see a doctor anywhere. Miraculously there was an empty gurney in the corridor and Dorian laid the woman down on it gently. “I’m going to find a doctor okay?” He promised, leaving Maldonado there to comfort the two women. He jogged down the hall towards the nurse’s desk. It was void of people. He asked a group of people sat on the plastic seats lining the corridor but they all just shrugged.
He then heard a deep gravelly voice from behind one of the privacy curtains, telling a patient to relax.
“Excuse me Doctor?” Dorian called out, not wanting to just barge in.
“You’ll have to wait your turn, I’m busy.” The voice grumbled.
“I appreciate that Doctor, it’s not for me. I’ve just helped a woman in who is really sick, I think she might be dying and I…”
He was interrupted then by a shout and a crash of metal on tile. He rushed back to where he’d left Sandra and the two women. The gurney had been tipped over on its side and Maldonado was sat on the floor, clutching the edge of the gurney in one hand and her bloody nose in the other. The two women were gone.
“Shit!” Sandra cursed as Dorian offered a hand and hauled her to her feet, keeping a hold of her arm as she steadied herself. She ran a hand through the back of her hair and checked it for blood, luckily coming back clean. “They caught me off guard.”
“Are you okay?” Dorian asked, cupping her face in his hand and studying the damage, thankfully nothing was broken.
“Yeah, yeah I think so. I just don’t know why…”
They were interrupted by the gruff voice. Dorian turned to see a weary looking man in his early fifties. He was dressed in scrubs, his silver-flecked dark hair falling over his face. “Dark haired woman and her sick mother?” He asked.
Dorain nodded, “Hodgkin’s, how did you know?”
The doctor rolled his eyes, “did you come in a car?”
Sandra made the connection before Dorian did. She took off at a sprint for the front door. By the time Dorian caught up to her she was standing in the doorway staring at an empty space where they’d parked their Land Rover. The women’s car was gone too. “Shit!” She cursed again. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” She lashed out, kicking the nearest thing, which was a disused lamppost, in an uncharacteristic display of anger, before sitting down on the curb and resting her arms on her knees.
Dorian went to sit beside her, close enough that their knees touched gently and he gave her a small nudge. “It’ll be alright.” He said.
“How?” She looked at him and her face was etched with a weary despair, blood smeared across her cheek where she’d wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “They took everything; all the food, water, your charging device...”
“Hey, you alright?”
Dorian looked up to see the doctor had followed them out. He had his hands in his pockets and was staring down at the pair of them.
Maldonado sighed, “Yeah, I’m fine.” She had regained her composure almost instantly. “We’ve just lost everything we had.”
The doctor nodded and crouched in front of her, pulling a penlight out of his pocket. He ran his calloused fingertips gently across her cheekbones, checking for any fractures or swelling and shone the light in her eyes, first one and then the other. When he was satisfied she didn’t have a concussion he rocked back onto his heels. “They’ve been playing that scam for at least a year. But you saw what it’s like in there. It’s just me and two nurses and I can’t be everywhere at once. I tried to get someone to enforce security but they cut a deal with him and he found he could do better on their side. Most people these days don’t want to help others, it’s a rare thing that you tried.”
“We’re here looking for a friend. We got separated and we think he might be hurt.” Dorian explained. “We’re hoping he came here. White guy, dark hair, six foot one, has a prosthetic right leg.”
The doctor shook his head. “Nope, think I’d remember the leg, don’t get many of those this side of the wall.”
“Is there anyone else that would’ve seen him?”
He shook his head. “I mean it when I say I’m the only doctor. We’re like gold dust these days. There are two more doctors for the transfers upstairs but if he’s come into the hospital at all, I’ve seen him.”
“Well it was a long shot.” Sandra said, “thanks for your help.”
“It’s why they pay me the big bucks.” He smiled grimly and stood.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She replied, “I don’t have anything to pay you, it all went with the car.”
He laughed then, “I’m joking, I don’t actually get paid at all. People help me out with food and water if they can, bring me the odd book, it’s enough to get us by, but I never expect anything.”
“Have you ever heard of InSyndicate?” Dorian asked abruptly. Sandra shot him a look but he ignored it.
The doctor frowned, “Everyone in this city knows of InSyndicate. Hell, a whole load of us work for them.”
“You work for them?” Sandra asked suddenly suspicious.
“Well, not so much. But they supply the medicines, get it over the wall. And in exchange I patch up their soldiers and allow them to recruit from here. Your friend with InSyn?”
“Sort of.” Dorian replied.
“Well you may want to try asking downtown. They own a lot of the warehouses down there. Tell you what, there’s an old church they run down there, Our Mother Of Mercy, they might be able to ask around, see if you can find your friend.”
“Thank you.” Sandra stood and shook his hand warmly, “If we ever find our Land Rover, we’ll drop some supplies your way.”
“Bonne chance.” The doctor wished them good luck and then stepped back inside the hospital, shoulders hunched against the cold.
“The church he mentioned is about an hour’s walk away.” Dorian said, checking his memory banks for the city layout.
Sandra just nodded and started walking.
“You think striding into an InSyndicate hideout is a good idea?”
She shrugged. “I don’t have a better plan right now, do you?”
Dorian just shook his head, he thought back to the hostage situation he and John had foiled the previous year. He hoped, like then, that the plan would come to them on the way.
The walk took them just over an hour, but eventually they were stood at the corner of the street, staring at the church in question. It had a large wooden door that was barely clinging to its hinges, having taken some damage during what had likely been a forced entry, but there was a dim yellow light inside that illuminated the stained-glass prettily. It looked cozy, hardly a stronghold for an evil terrorist organisation. Which was a good thing as they still didn’t have a plan.
“What are we going to do?” Dorian asked in a hushed tone. “We can hardly just go in there and ask them.”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do.” Sandra smiled and then strode out of their cover and straight for the church. Dorian rolled her eyes and then hurried to catch up with her, thankful that they were both armed. When they got there, she didn’t even hesitate, just pushed the heavy wooden door and it swung open.
Instantly they froze at the sound of a gun being cocked. “Who the fuck are you?” A woman shouted, striding towards them as they stood in the doorway. “We’ve got nothing for you scavenger scum so get the fuck out of here or I’ll shoot you.”
“Soph wait!” A voice called out from the back of the room, causing the woman to freeze.
Dorian looked passed the angry young woman to the rest of the room. It was an old stone carved church, of the kind that barely existed on their side of the wall anymore. The pews had been cleared out and instead it housed dozens of sick people laid out on mattresses. But there at the back of the room, was a man sat on the edge of someone’s bed as he spooned food into a sick boy’s mouth. The man was so beaten up, his face so swollen that Dorian wouldn’t have recognised him were it not for the fact he was missing a leg.
It took a bit longer than I'd have liked to get this latest chapter posted. Real Life is kinda kicking my ass right now, but the next wait won't be so long. Thank you to everyone who is reading and enjoying this story. I'd love to hear from you all.
Hope this next chapter was worth the wait.
Sandra could have cried with relief when she saw him. He painted a heart-breaking picture and she had to refrain from running over to him. She would have, were it not for the rather angry young woman waving an assault rifle at her.
"John, you know these two?" The woman asked, refusing to lower her weapon.
"Yeah, yeah. They're my friends."
"You never mentioned any friends." The woman said, suspicious.
John let out a shuddering breath as he got his emotions under control. "Because I didn't know they'd find me. Put your gun down Sophie you can trust them. You trust me, don't you?"
"My sister does." The woman said, clearly yet to be convinced herself, but she lowered her weapon and stepped aside. Sandra noticed another woman had appeared in the doorway of a room off to the side. She had her arms folded across her chest and was leaning on the doorframe with a gentle smile on her face. She looked so like the first woman that she had to be the sister.
Dorian ignored the woman and rushed through the rows of mattresses, sinking to his knees beside John and wrapping his arms around the man, drawing him into a bear hug. John hissed in pain, but laughed too, returning the hug. Dorian realised he'd hurt the man and quickly recoiled. Sandra came up beside them and dropped to her knees too, unsure of his injuries she took his hand instead and gave it a gentle squeeze, as she did she noticed the bandages round his wrists that were spotted on with blood. He was dressed in an old grey tee shirt and worn jeans, and she could see there were bandages beneath the borrowed clothes as well.
"How did you find me?" John asked, his voice strained, barely able to see out of his bruised eyes.
"That's a long story." Sandra replied, throwing a glance to the girl Sophie. John caught her hint and gave her a slight nod, not in present company.
"You okay Jason?" John turned and spoke to the young boy that had been propped up in the bed. "These are my friends Sandra and Dorian. I've got some important things to talk to them about, but I'll be back later okay?" The kid didn't say anything, just nodded. John ruffled a hand through his hair and reached for a pair of old wooden crutches that were propped up against the wall. Dorian stood and offered him a hand, hauling him to his foot before grabbing the crutches and offering them to him.
"Thanks buddy." He said under his breath. Sandra knew he was still embarrassed about the loss of his leg and he hated needing any kind of help. He looked like he needed help though, he was unsteady and weak. As he leaned on the crutches he couldn't help but let out a pained gasp, but he gritted his teeth and began to move with surprising deftness, swinging his body forward as he navigated through the obstacles. By the time he'd made it to the door though, his arms were shaking with the effort.
John lead them outside and sat down heavily on the steps to the church, setting his crutches down with a sigh. Sandra sat down beside him and placed a hand on his knee. "Oh John, what did they do to you?"
"Anna was there." He said, his voice sounding raw. "They wanted to know the extent of my investigation."
"They tortured you?" Dorian asked, horrified.
John avoided the question but the answer was obvious. "I escaped but was in a pretty bad way…"
Just then the door opened and the older of the two sisters appeared carrying a blanket. "Sorry to interrupt," she said with a tired smile. "But it's too cold for you out here." She opened the blanket and draped it over John's shoulders, rather than being embarrassed at the motherly gesture, as Sandra would have expected, he smiled at her gratefully and pulled it closer round him.
"Carrie, this is Sandra and Dorian." He introduced. "I was just telling them how you saved my life."
"Well don't forget to tell them how you returned the favour." She said. "It's a pleasure to meet you. You should come inside, I'll see if there's any dinner left for you." She offered, turning and leaving them to their talk.
"We should get out of here." Dorian said when she'd left. "Hide out somewhere until we can find another car."
John shrugged. "We can stay here, there's not a huge amount of space but we might be able to find a couple of extra mattresses. Anyway, they've had a bit of trouble here the last few days and I'd rather not abandon them until I have to." Sandra studied him in the dim moonlight. He looked exhausted and the relief he'd shown at their arrival had quickly fallen, replaced by a sad expression that barely masked the pain he was in. It reminded her of how he was in the days after the hospital, she knew she'd have to keep a closer eye on him than usual.
"John," Dorian spoke carefully, knowing he was about to broach a difficult subject. "The people here, they work for InSyndicate."
It shocked them both when John nodded. "I know."
"You know?" Dorian was horrified. "They work with the people who tortured you John! We can't stay here, we can't trust them."
John held a hand up to stop the tirade. "Look it's complicated okay…"
"Look, John." Sandra interjected quietly but firmly, afraid that Dorian's emotional plea was getting too loud. They had the door shut but she still wasn't convinced they weren't being watched. She wished they could have this conversation further away but John looked like he'd barely make it another step. "I know they patched you up, but they're with the people who did this to you in the first place. They're terrorists John, they're the ones who killed your team, took your leg... You don't owe them anything."
"But I might." John lowered his voice so that even Sandra had to strain to hear. "When I escaped I found a warehouse. It was full of DRN's. With the synthetic souls and ZNA stuff that Nigel Vaughn stole, they could be building an army. There's been mutterings here about taking down the wall, apparently InSyn has stepped up their recruitment. We need to finish this, but the people here are not the enemy. You saw how desperate it was in there. Those people in there are dying. InSyndicate smuggles drugs across the border and no one here can afford to ask any questions about where they came from, or what was done to get them."
"You're saying these people don't know who InSyndicate really are?"
John paused as though he was debating how to respond. "Honestly, some do. The guy Will definitely does, he was there during the raid. He's the one I followed to find the tunnel." Dorian looked ready to stride back in and blow the man's brains out but John continued. "The others? I'm not sure. Bits of it yeah, they're not naïve. But one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."
"You cannot be siding with these people?"
"Not everything is as black and white as your programming would like Dorian!" John hissed.
Sandra sighed and shook her head, this was not the joyful reunion that she'd spent days wishing for. "This Will, you're sure he's not recognised you?" she asked instead.
John shook his head. "I don't think so. I was just one of a dozen nameless cops a few years ago. You know how it is, most people just see the uniform, not the person behind it. Besides…" He waved a hand to indicate his blackened and swollen face. "He would have recognised Dorian as a DRN, but he left yesterday to try and get more supplies. Most of the group went with him, so it's only Carrie and Sophie here at the moment."
Sandra nodded, while she was as uncomfortable as Dorian amongst the strangers, she could see that John would not be swayed on the subject, and she owed it to him to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's always been a good judge of character, she told herself, even as a little voice inside her head whispered, 'remember Anna.' "John, you're cold. Let's go inside."
He didn't protest, just nodded and struggled to his crutches. The blanket slipped from his shoulders and Sandra grabbed it before it hit the filthy floor and held onto it as he made his way slowly up the steps. He moved on ahead of the others, Sandra watched his shoulders, muscles taught under his shirt, blood coming through the bandages and staining the thin cotton of his tee. She looked at Dorian who appeared to be struggling not to cry and she marvelled again about how it was the android who always seemed to be the most human of all of them. She had to remind herself that whatever she thought of these people, John had clearly been in a bad way when he'd found them and for the care they'd given him, she had to be grateful.
John placed his hand on the door to push it open but turned and looked at them with a serious expression. "Listen, Carrie knows I'm from over the wall but won't say anything. But the others think I was on the road heading West, when I got attacked by bandits. It's best we stick to that story. I know you want to get out of here, but I do have a plan. I just need a few days that's all."
As they entered back into the church they were hit with warmth from the fire. It reminded Sandra just how cold she'd been over the last few days of being on the road. John showed them over to a mattress by the fire and sat down on it heavily resting his back against the wall, gesturing for the others to do the same. Sandra sat perched on the edge and Dorian sat on the floor beside them, legs crossed. It was quiet in the room, the younger sister Sophie was nowhere to be seen, the older, Carrie was hurrying about between the beds, she stooped down to speak to someone quickly and then disappeared into one of the side rooms where a low moaning could be heard until she shut the door behind her.
"Nathan is having another bad night," John said as though that was enough of an explanation. Looking around the room though, it was clear no one was well, so Sandra assumed whatever was wrong with him had to be really bad. "Listen, you should get some sleep." He moved to get up. "It's my turn on watch soon anyway."
"Yeah, this place is a target for gangs looking to score medicine. It was attacked when I got here a few days ago, and they say it happens regularly. We've kept a lookout posted in the bell tower, with everyone else gone and Carrie needed here, I've been taking shifts."
Sandra looked to Dorian but he had his eyes closed and was unresponsive, she knew that without any means of charging he had to conserve as much energy as possible. "I'll do it, you need rest if you're going to heal."
"I'm alright," John protested.
"Like hell you are." Sandra stood. "Where am I going?"
John pointed her to a wooden door in the corner of the room. "Get some sleep, I mean it." She said, planting a kiss in his messy hair.
"I'm glad you found me." John said quietly.
There was a set of stone spiral stairs through the door, as Sandra started to climb she could feel all the effects of her two-day hike. Her thighs burned, her calves kept threatening to cramp and her feet were really painful. The day spent in the car had been a welcome respite but it would take more than a day to recover. She wouldn't complain though, not when one of her best friends had been through hell. At the top was a small space about a metre square. The wall came to waist height and then was open on all sides giving a clear view of the surrounding streets, pillars in the corners supported a tiled roof and a large bell. An old wooden chair had been taken up there and Sophie was sat in it, that assault rifle slung across her lap. She leaned on the top of the wall staring out at the street below.
"I thought it would be the other one of you." She said quietly without looking up.
"Dorian's resting, he was driving all day." Sandra explained.
"Where's your car now?"
Sandra actually laughed at that, but only because it was so frustrating. "Actually, it got stolen."
Sophie looked at her then. "Just so we're clear, I'll let you take watch, but you're not having my rifle. You're to get me if you see anyone, and know if you try anything I will have no issues with taking you or your friend out."
Sandra nodded. "Understood."
Sophie stood and gave her a curt nod, before making her way down the stairs. Sandra watched her go and then huddled down into her jacket, turning her attention to the streets.
She lost track of how long she was there, but the sky was beginning to lighten on the horizon when she heard footsteps. She turned and saw Carrie make her way slowly up the steps. She looked sad and tired.
"Everything alright?" Sandra asked. She wanted not to care about these people, the anger she held for InSyndicate burned too brightly, but she couldn't help himself.
"Nathan just died." She said, sitting on the top step.
Carrie sighed, "He's been in pain for a long time." She replied. That short sentence said everything; it's sad he's gone, it's a relief he's now at rest, death is just part of existence this side of the wall.
"I wanted to thank you, for helping us out. And apologise, my sister has spent so many years acting as a cold, hard-ass that sometimes she forgets to switch it off."
Sandra smiled. "She's protective of the people here. I'd be a hypocrite if I said I blamed her. You've looked after John and for that we owe you."
"He was in a really bad way when we found him; hypothermic, starving, I've never seen injuries like his. I know you want to take him back home, and you should, but he's not as well as he's pretending and it's a hard journey."
"Can I ask you something?" Sandra asked carefully, "You know we're from the other side of the wall. John thinks you won't tell the others, not even your sister. Why?"
"My job here is to look after people, theirs is to protect us. We have our reasons not to trust people from the other side of the wall and I don't want them to overreact."
"So why do you trust us?"
"Because I trust John. He knew me for ten minutes before he saved my life, and he's kind, he's helped us out a lot since getting here and has never asked for anything. I know not everyone from the other side can be as bad as we think they are. Sophie is too young to remember, but we were all united once."
Sandra nodded, thinking of her own prejudices aired just hours ago, to a man who had more cause to hate these people than most but who had managed to see clearly what she had been missing. "Sometimes that's an easy thing to forget."
Happy Easter everyone! Hope you're all enjoying this so far, it'd be great to hear what you think x
It was the best night's sleep that John had managed in ages. Sure, it had still been a little restless, every time he moved caused another pain to flare up, and the church hall, with all its occupants, snoring, coughing and moaning was hardly peaceful, but each time he woke he was greeted with the sight of Dorian sat beside him, eyes closed as he conserved energy, and it gave him comfort. As a result, he slept in, and when he woke again daylight streamed through the stain glassed window and Dorian was pottering about chatting with patients and changing IV bags and dressings like he was born to do it.
He watched him a while before summoning the strength to get up. Hauling himself to his feet with his crutches and making his way into the side room where Carrie and Sophie had set up a small kitchen. There was a huge pot simmering on the stove. An old table was tucked into the corner of the room and Sandra was sat at it with a bowl of soup. John slumped down into the nearest chair, Dorian followed him in, got John a bowl of soup and then joined them at the table.
"Where are the others?" John asked, glancing behind him as though he was excepting them to come through the door at any moment.
"Sophie is back on watch and Carrie is asleep. She worked all night." Sandra replied.
"And what about you?"
She shrugged. "I got a few hours this morning. I'm good. Last night, you said you had a plan?"
John nodded. "When the others were leaving I heard Will and Soph talking about a cache. You can see it from the bell tower, I was on watch when they left. There are guards posted on it and a sniper on the roof. There's too many of them to sneak in, but they're getting desperate here, there are gangs who keep raiding this place and they're running out of ammo. If I can get on the next trip to the cache then I can maybe get hold of some explosives. After that we need to get into the warehouse of DRN's, set it to blow and then run. We need to do some more recon too, I'm fairly sure there's more than one warehouse."
Dorian eyed him suspiciously, "How were you going to run anywhere?"
John shrugged, "Truthfully, the running is a new part of the plan." The real truth was that he hadn't ever expected the plan to be anything other than a suicide mission, it still likely was. The arrival of Dorian and Sandra would cause him as many problems as it did favours. He'd been resigned to sneaking in with as much explosive as he could carry and blowing it all to hell, now he had the other two to think about. The DRN army they had stored away would need to be eradicated, but at what cost? He didn't want his final act to mean the death of the only two people he cared about, and who cared about him. Dorian had once asked who would remember him when he was gone, and John had given him a cheesy line about the people you help being the ones to remember. Truth was though, the answer had always been friends and family, and now he was sat looking at the last two people on earth who might've shed a tear at his passing. There was something overwhelmingly final about that thought, it was for his own selfish sake almost as much it was for theirs, that however this plan worked out, it needed to end with them driving off into the sunset and the safety of home.
"We need to look for a new car." Sandra said, cutting off Dorian before he could say anything about the recklessness of John's plan. "We can do recon while we do that. We'll need supplies and the car ready to go for as soon as we blow this thing. They'll be coming after us. John," she looked him up and down carefully, "you sure you're up to this? Where's your leg, can it be fixed?"
John shook his head. "I had a look at it yesterday. Everything is fused and the contact plate is ruined. I'll have to manage on the crutches."
"Can you even do that in your condition?" Dorian asked, his voice choked with concern. "Maybe we need to wait…"
"How much charge do you have left Dorian?" John countered. "I'll manage if you can." The tone was challenging and John hated himself a little for it. He and Dorian had seemed to butt heads since the moment he turned up. He knew the android was just concerned, and the low charge always made him more emotional than usual, but he had carefully constructed walls to compartmentalise everything that had happened over the last eight days and Dorian's waves of empathy were threatening to bring them crumbling down.
"They have a generator at the hospital, could we rig something up to charge you from it?" Sandra asked Dorian.
He shook his head. "They won't have the compatible tech. We'll need to steal something from the warehouse where they're keeping the other DRNs."
"How long have you got left?" John asked.
"I'm at 64%. With all except my most basic operating systems running I have maybe three days."
"Can you shut anything else down?"
Dorian shook his head.
"Then we need to work fast." John said with a grim smile.
Sandra got to her feet. "We should go look for a vehicle now. There's no time to waste."
Dorian stood too and placed a hand gently on John's shoulder. "Are you okay here? We'll be back as soon as we can."
"Yeah, yeah. You're right. Don't worry about me, just be careful okay?" John implored. The two of them left and John watched them sadly before turning back to stare blankly at the table in front of him. There was an ache in his chest and for just a moment he felt like everything was going to engulf him. He choked down the lump in his throat and hastily wiped at his eyes. He jumped when a hand came down on his shoulder, looking up into the perpetually exhausted face of Carrie.
"Where have your friends gone?" She asked softly.
"They've gone to look for a new car. They'll be back." John explained.
"Then why do you look so sad?" She sat beside him, unwilling to release her touch.
He sighed, "It's just been a long few days that's all."
She nodded knowingly, "Come on, I need to change your dressings.
John grabbed his crutches started to follow her but she stopped in the doorway and he almost crashed into the back of her. She was staring across the room to the doorway on the other side that lead up to the bell tower. There was a heavy-set man in the doorway and he had Sophie gripped tightly to his chest, a large serrated hunting knife held under her chin. The edge of it was pressing into her throat, causing blood to well up and run in a thin trail down her neck. She had a cut to her eyebrow and the skin around it was starting to discolour and swell but she had her same defiant look on her face that she'd had when John had first met her.
"Hands in the air." The man growled at the room. "All of you." The sudden voice caused the patients to panic and gasp as they realised what was happening, but it was too regular an occurrence to cause any of them true shock. Instead, they all held up their hands dutifully. Carrie followed suit, her raised hands shaking ever so slightly.
"Hey," John snarled, "do you thugs not speak to each other? Your buddies cleaned this place out a few days ago. There's nothing left for you."
"I told you to put your hands up!" The man yelled, the knife digging deeper into Sophie's throat.
"Kinda tricky," John said, moving slightly to the side so that he could be fully seen from behind Carrie. He held his hands up awkwardly, the crutches wedged uncomfortably into his armpits. "You mind if I go back to my bed?" He asked, thinking of the knife he had hidden under his pillow.
The man actually laughed at him. "Ha, yeah okay. You know you got a lot of nerve for a fuckin' cripple. Jesus Sophie, this who you recruitin' to your cause these days? I'd tell ya to move slowly but I'm guessin' that's a given."
John did move slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on the knife at Sophie's neck as he tried to judge his limited options. The front door opened and he saw three others, all armed with handguns, march in. They stood in the doorway, watching to see how things would play out. Suddenly there was a gunshot and a yelp from outside, causing the three men in the doorway to turn, guns raised. John leapt at the man holding Sophie, with two great swings on his crutches and then swept the left one round until it cracked into the side of the man's head. It made him stagger and Sophie used the distraction to kick backwards and drive her heel into his leg, scraping it down his shin as she pulled down on the arm that was holding the knife. John barrelled into them both then, body slamming the guy, although without the usual momentum that a run-up would have been able to afford him. He launched an elbow into the man's face and then grabbed his knife arm that he was trying desperately to get back into position at Sophie's throat.
The muscular man, flung his knife arm out, causing John, who still gripped it tightly, to lose balance. His foot slid across the floor and he fell to his knee. Sophie slipped away from the man's grasp and stepped out of his fighting arc. He ignored her and fell upon John instead. As the gangster tackled him, John hit the ground hard, knocking the wind out of his lungs and causing his fractured ribs to lance with pain. John ignored it and rolled over, kicking out and catching the man in the groin. The man grunted in pain but was not to be stopped, straddling the detective and pinning him to the ground with his thighs, he loomed over John with the knife, aiming it for John's eye. The detective grabbed the man's fist in both his hands and tried to wrestle the knife from his grip. John could hear more gunshots and shouting coming from outside but he blocked it out to focus on the life and death battle he had right in front of him. His arms shook with the effort of holding the stronger man at bay, the knife edging closer to its intended target, his still blackened eye watering at the sight of the silver point getting far too close.
Suddenly, the man let out a roar and pulled up, grasping frantically for something on his back. John could see Carrie behind him, her hands stained with blood. The man twisted as he backhanded Carrie with a brutish fist, sending her skidding to the floor and John saw the black plastic handle of a kitchen knife embedded to the hilt under the man's shoulder blade. John tried to scramble back out of the way but the enraged man lashed out, slashing his hunting knife wildly towards him. John scrabbled on the ground, his fingers closing round his discarded crutch before swinging it, clumsily parrying the man's blade, following it up by smashing the end of it into the man's face. The man grabbed the crutch and wrenched it from John's hands, tossing it away. He was about to descend on his prone victim again when a shot rang out, cutting through the chaos. Blood bloomed on his chest and then he fell, straight forward, John barely had time to roll out of the way before he crashed face first into the floor.
John looked up to the doorway to see Dorian stood there, smoking glock still held up in front of him. John grabbed the hunting knife from the man's now limp grasp and then wrenched the knife from his back, tossing them both away so that they skittered across the floor and out of reach. As he heaved the man over, he realised he needn't have bothered, he'd been killed instantly.
"Everyone okay?" John asked breathlessly. He scanned over the others, Carrie was sat on the floor where she'd landed, looking shaken but unharmed, Sophie was stood beside her, a hand clamped on her neck that trickled blood but looked angrier than she looked hurt. Sandra was just coming back in from outside, casually storing her firearm back in her shoulder holster beneath her coat like kit was just another day at the office. Dorian was his usual quiet concern but he'd obviously had a close call, a deep wound leaked purple fluid from his hairline. It took John a second to realise the full implication of such an injury.
"What the fuck are you?" Sophie snarled, in a mix of fear and fury. But instead of attacking Dorian, who also appeared to be just realising the problem his injury would cause, she rounded on John. "Your friend is a fucking synthetic?" The discarded hunting knife had landed near her feet and she snatched it up, brandishing it at the injured man. "You spying on us? I should've known you were from the other side, I should kill you right now!"
"Sophie don't!" Carrie pleaded.
Sophie looked at her sister, searching the expression on her face. "You knew?"
"They just want to get home Sophie, let them go."
She shook her head incredulously, "You have lived through the same shit I have, how did you get so naïve?"
"It's true." Dorian said, holstering his weapon and holding his hands up in a show of good will, "John was kidnapped and brought here. We came to get him back, that's all."
"You expect me to believe anything that comes out of that thing's mouth?" Sophie snapped.
"Believe this," Sandra said authoritatively, pointing her handgun at Sophie, "we are better armed than you are, you are in no position to be making threats. You really have no choice but to let us go, you're not going to follow us, you're not going to tell anyone else we were here, otherwise we'll tell every scumbag we meet that you have a basement full of drugs and no weapons to protect it. Dorian, get their rifle."
Dorian nodded and jogged upstairs to the bell tower.
"John, let's go." Sandra ordered.
John nodded and struggled to his foot, balanced on his crutches. Dorian came back down with the rifle slung across his back. Together they walked out of the church while Sandra stood in the doorway, her gun still trained on Sophie. He gave them one last look before he left, there was sadness and betrayal on the faces of the other patients he'd spent the last few days caring for. He'd expected Jason at least to show some sympathy, he had after all spent some considerable time getting to know their youngest resident, but despite his obvious weakness, the eight-year-old was just glaring daggers at him. 'I'm sorry', Carrie mouthed to him, but he just shrugged back and then made sure the door was shut behind them as they left.
He knew that Sophie would be racing up to the bell tower now to watch them leave, so he moved as fast as he could, hoping to be out of sight behind a building before she could get up there. The steps were strewn with dead gangsters and Sandra and Dorian stripped them of their weapons. John led the others away from the church and away from the cache and the DRN warehouse, hoping to be as far from InSyndicate as possible. They followed him in grim silence until they made it as far as the river, he took them down onto the footpath that ran alongside the water and under the shelter of a bridge before he stopped and sat down heavily on the bank.
"Well that's that plan out the window." He sighed, as Dorian and Sandra sat down on either side of him. Dorian shrugged out of his parka and wrapped it over John's shoulders, who smiled at him gratefully.
"We should just get out of here, go home." Sandra said. "We can regroup, get a team together and come back to strike at the warehouse."
"And what if we can't get a car? Most people fled west when the bombs hit, the cars that are left are ruined." John said, weary but determined. "Dorian has got three days left before we're dragging his heavy metal ass and it's going to take me longer than that to limp there. No, we should get into the warehouse, get Dorian the charge he needs, and finish this, once and for all."
I got a lot of love for the last chapter on fanfiction.net so as a thank you I posted two chapters today. So in order to keep pace you guys get two as well. It would be lovely to hear from anyone reading this.
Valerie glanced at her watch and then at the office where she knew Acting Captain Wilson would be typing frantically behind his desk. Captain Maldonado had always kept the smart-glass walls of her office transparent, she'd insisted it kept her approachable and it was important for her staff to see her working just as hard as she expected them to. Wilson had the settings on a weird, half-tint, so he could see out but no one else could see in. It always made her feel like they were being spied on, and the odds were that had been the intention. Wilson had been brought in on a temporary basis to fill Maldonado's role during her suspension. He was a lieutenant, young for such a rank, and eager to advance. It didn't take much reading between the lines to realise that he'd been offered a full promotion to captain should this posting go well, and that it would require a certain amount of brownnosing to make that happen. Stahl had never met someone such a stickler for rules, it was like being led by an MX, which is why she was watching the clock, counting down the last three minutes of her shift before she got up and put on her jacket.
Across the bullpen from her, Detective Paul was doing the same, although he'd given up the pretence of continuing to work about five minutes previously and was currently leaning right back in his chair and casually playing with an electronic rubix cube. His MX was stood by his side facing straight ahead with that usual blank expression but even he looked bored and ready for quitting time. As soon as the display on the wall clicked over to 18:00:00, Paul stood and grabbed his coat from his chair. He slung it over his shoulder and strode for the exit, pausing by Valerie's desk just long enough to mutter, "Still on for later?"
Valerie nodded, "I'll see you in a little while."
She picked up her own things, donning her leather jacket, scarf, gloves and hat before slinging her bag over one shoulder and heading out. As she stepped outside, the cold air hit her and she pulled the scarf tighter around her neck as she walked to the train station. As she did she thought about her colleagues, miles north of the border, who knew where. At first the communication had been regular, but they'd missed their check in the previous evening, and the one due that day. The last communication had been the previous morning when Dorian had called to say they'd found a vehicle at last and were on their way to Montreal. He'd promised to call when they got there, but so far they'd heard nothing.
Valerie spent the entire train journey back to her apartment thinking of all the things that could possibly have gone wrong; had they been killed, captured, were they crashed in a ditch somewhere having come off an icy road? Even if they had made it to Montreal, had they found John? Was he even there? Was he even still alive? The thoughts consumed her even as she came out of her station and began the short walk to her apartment block. She was almost home when she realised she was being followed.
At first she thought she was being paranoid, it was rush hour and a lot of people were taking the train home. Her whole area was full of high rise apartment blocks, literally thousands of people were also taking a similar route home right now. But a glance at the reflection in a shop window confirmed it was a thin, stern-looking man who had been stood opposite her on the train. Disliking the coincidence, she walked straight passed her apartment block and then took the next left. He followed. With her heart starting to race she took the next right, quickening her pace and entered the coffee shop on the next corner.
She sighed with relief, it was busy. She strode across the room to the toilet intending to hide, but they only had one and it was occupied. She glanced at the plate glass windows to outside, she couldn't see him yet, so she pulled off her hat and scarf and shoved them into her bag before getting into the line for coffee, hoping to blend in with everyone else.
When she felt someone come and stand behind her in line, a little too close, she gulped back the panic and shoved her hands in her pocket to keep them from shaking.
She kept her gaze down at the floor, hair falling down to obscure her face, but the man leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "You and your partner need to stop what you're doing." And then he felt his hand in the back pocket of her jeans, just momentarily, before he turned and left.
Valerie let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding and turned around, but he was already gone.
"Hey, miss. You okay?" The barista asked, concerned. She realised she'd made it to the front of the line and had probably been asked more than once for her order. "That guy hassling you?"
"What? Erm, yeah. But it doesn't matter, he's gone now." She said hastily. She ordered a mocha and berated herself internally as her hands shook slightly as she tapped her bit-coin stick on the scanner to pay. When her drink was ready, she sat at one of the tables in the corner, with a full view of the coffee house and the street beyond. Picking up those cop habits after all, she told herself wryly. As she sipped her drink she fished into the back pocket of her jeans and drew out what had been placed there.
It was a small scrap of paper with a handwritten address scrawled on it in block capitals. The address was for a house in the suburbs, but it wasn't an area she was familiar with. She typed it into her phone but apart from a link to a site comparing house prices in the area, there was no hits on it. She folded it up again carefully and zipped it into the secure inner pocket of her jacket.
By the time she'd finished her coffee she was reasonably sure that the man had gone, but she still didn't take any chances, using a convoluted route back to her apartment block. She breathed a sigh of relief as she passed the concierge and made it to the elevator, alone.
She let herself back into her modern two-bed apartment and ensured the door was double-locked and bolted before throwing her keys in the bowl she kept them in by the door and striding through to the living room.
"You're back late." Jake commented as she slouched down next to him on the sofa. "That new boss of yours better be signing off on all this overtime you're doing." Jake was dressed in a deep purple shirt and black suit trousers, ready for a night shift at the club. As usual, he looked immaculate, by comparison Valerie realised she probably looked strung out and tired, not exactly what a chrome would expect of their chrome girlfriend.
"Actually, I got followed home." She admitted.
"What?" Jake sat up straight.
"I walked passed and went to a coffee shop instead, waited for him to leave. I don't know if he actually knows where we live, probably not, but just be careful okay?" She thought about telling him about the rest of the encounter, but then thought better of it.
"Val, this is getting out of hand." Jake growled, standing up and starting to pace the room.
Valerie frowned, she'd expected him to show worry, not get angry.
"How far are you going to let this carry on? You're spending all your free time working on some secret project, I know you're being investigated at work…"
Valerie wanted to ask him how he knew, she certainly hadn't said anything, it had to be gossip he'd picked up on at the club, but he wouldn't let her get a word in.
"All for some guy you work with!" He said, emphasising the 'some'.
The insinuation made her angry then and she too leapt to her feet. "John is a friend. And he's in trouble and…"
"And now you're in trouble." He cut her off, his voice getting louder. "He's been gone over a week and you've gotten nowhere. Now you're getting threats too!"
"I must be getting somewhere otherwise they wouldn't be trying to warn me off." Valerie pointed out. "You think a week is enough time to look for someone? That's it now, I should what? Just write him off?"
"You think that makes me feel better? You're putting yourself in danger Val. Who is this guy to you anyway?"
"I'm a cop Jake! Like it or not there are risks to my job, you think I haven't been threatened before? You used to like that about me." God! She was livid. He wasn't looking at her now, was slipping into his shoes at the door.
"You know what? I hope this 'friend' or whatever he is to you is worth it." He was trying to storm out but Valerie had double locked and bolted the door so as a result it was taking forever, and the more frustrated he got the more he fumbled the lock. Eventually he yanked the door open and found Richard Paul in dark jeans and a casual shirt hovering at the door about to knock. He stared at the smaller man in disbelief, before snarling, "Fan-fucking-tastic!" and barging passed him and into the stairwell, clearly too angry to wait for the elevator.
Paul watched him go and then turned back to study Valerie who was stood in the doorway looking furious.
"Are you okay? He's not hurt you has he?" He asked.
"What?" Valerie couldn't believe what she was being asked. "No, he'd never…" She opened the door wider and gestured for him to come in. She shut the door behind her colleague and strode over to the kitchenette, picking up a bottle of red wine from the table and cracking the lid. "He thinks we should stop our investigation. I got followed home today and warned off…" She pulled a pair of wine glasses from the cupboard.
"Jesus Christ! Are you alright?" Paul said, pausing in the middle of taking off his coat.
"Yeah, I'm fine. A little shook up I guess but…"
"Sit down." Paul said, taking her arm and guiding her to the sofa. "I'll get the wine, bet you could use it."
Valerie smiled at him and allowed herself to be led, sinking into the worn cushions of the sofa, now why couldn't Jake have responded like that? She wondered to herself.
"So," he said, retrieving the glasses, now filled with wine and handing her one. "Tell me what happened."
"There was this guy on the train, I didn't think anything of it, until he got off at my stop and I realised he was following me. So I walked passed the block, took a couple of turns and went into a coffee shop. He came up behind me and whispered in my ear to stop what I was doing. And then he slipped this into my pocket and left." She drew the folded piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it over to Paul.
Richard Paul took it from her slowly and unfolded it. Valerie watched his face fall and visibly pale as he read what was on it.
"Are you okay?" Valerie asked, placing a hand on his shoulder and breaking him out of his trance.
He leapt to his feet and pulled his phone from his pocket. "That's my kids' address!"
Valerie put her hand over her mouth in horror and watched her colleague pace frantically as he dialled and then waited agonising seconds before the phone was picked up.
When it was answered, the speaker was loud enough that Valerie could just about here the woman on the other end. "What do you want Richard?"
"Oh thank god Janey, are you and the kids okay?" He ran his hand over his face with relief.
"You saw them all weekend. What is this about?"
"Janey, I want you to take the kids and go down and see your parents."
"What? When? I can't just drop everything and go down to Colorado. How long for?"
"Please, tell work you have a family emergency. I'll buy you the tickets, compensate for any loss of earnings..."
"What have you gotten yourself into Richard?" Her tone changed from irritation to worry.
"I…" Paul floundered a second, "I'm conducting an investigation, I can't go into details, but I just want to make sure the kids are safe. And you." He added the last as an afterthought.
"Are you safe?" Valerie could hear her ask. "I said I didn't want to do this anymore."
"I know babe. I'll be fine. I'm sorry you're being dragged into this." He sounded really upset, he'd walked into the kitchenette and had lowered his voice but Valerie could still hear both sides of the conversation.
"You've got to stop taking your work home Rich."
"I know, I said I would. But this thing I'm working on, it's really important. Listen, I'm going to call Andy, okay? Pack a bag for you and the girls and he'll take you to the airport."
It seemed to go quiet on the other end of the line. "Janey?" He prompted. She replied something that Valerie couldn't hear but Paul was nodding along to it. "Tell the girls I love them." By the time he hung up he looked close to tears with worry. "Shit!" He said, turning to Valerie. "I need to make this official, they'll need a protection detail and…"
"Richard you can't!" Valerie stopped him as he was about to dial the next number.
"What! Why not? They threatened my family!"
"Last night I worked out what Bochen is." The revelation stopped him in his tracks so she continued. "I'd been working on the idea that it was a person, it's not, it's an Op. This is what I invited you over here to talk to you about. Rudy managed to hack into a redacted file from the time of John's InSyndicate raid. He was set up to fail. This document refers to the transcript of a meeting, only initials were used in place of names, but from the context it appears to be between someone within InSyndicate and a small group of high ranking people within the police and the mayor's office. InSyndicate has people in our police force, and at the moment I have no idea how high their influence goes."
Paul clenched his hand into a fist and pressed it into his forehead in frustration, before bringing it down to his mouth and biting his knuckle. "We can't trust anyone!"
"No one higher up. And if we make this official then there'll be all kind of opportunity to interfere. How well do you know this Andy?"
Paul smiled, "We were at the academy together, he was the best man at my wedding. I trust him with my life."
"Good." Valerie said. She waited patiently for Detective Paul to complete his next frantic phone call, urging his best friend to help him out. He made the other man to promise not to tell anyone and to not ask any questions, and miraculously he seemed to accept without complaint. Valerie couldn't think of anyone she would take such a request from so automatically, she always had to know what she was getting herself into. He urged the man to call him when his family were safe before he hung up and when the conversation was done everything seemed to just drain out of him. He came back to the sofa and sat down sullenly, staring at the phone in his hands as though he was willing it to ring with news of their safety already.
Valerie went over to her desk and unlocked a drawer underneath it using the fingerprint scanner in the corner. They'd agreed to keep everything off digital devices so that they couldn't be hacked so Valerie drew out the sheaf of papers and placed them in Paul's lap. The transcript was on top, Valerie had gone through it all with red pen, highlighting the word 'Bochen' as well as any references to the raid. One of the parties, designated as G, was warning of some "jumped up department golden-boy" who had been getting too close, there was a discussion about moving the time and date of a "drop", and then the decision was made to go ahead, and use it as an opportunity to "shut him down." In the margins Valerie had written a series of names, trying to tie the initials to people, but she hadn't been very successful, there were just too many people it could be, for one of them, S, she'd even written the name 'Sandra Maldonado?', although she'd crossed it out aggressively almost immediately.
"Christ!" Paul said reading it. "But who do we go to with it?"
"I have no idea."
John took a steadying breath and checked his weapon again, adjusting his position in an attempt to relieve the pressure on his ribs, his breath ghosting in front of him in the darkness. He was laying on his stomach on the roof of a building, propped up on his elbows, the rifle taken from Sophie in his hands, trained on the door of the warehouse opposite. Beside him, within easy reach, were the other weapons that had been taken from the gangsters at the church. They were all loaded, checked, and checked again. The plan had been gone over and over, but really what it would come down to was going to be speed and luck, John hadn't been in possession of much of either recently.
He looked down at the street below. A block down he could see Dorian, barely visible in the moonlight, his back pressed up against the wall of the alley he was hidden in. John caught his eye and Dorian gave him a nod. That was it then, no going back. Dorian disappeared from view and John turned his gaze back to the door of the warehouse opposite, and the two armed men patrolling outside. He'd shot people before, but never in cold blood like this. He had to remind himself of the stakes; these people were terrorists, and without doing this, there was no telling how many people would be killed. He took a deep breath, held it, and then gently squeezed the trigger.
The shot rang out, echoing down the quiet streets and the first of the two armed men fell. The second gave a shout and then looked around frantically, swinging his weapon around frantically. The guard had a radio and John waited to allow him to call for back up before he took a breath, held it, and fired again, just like being at the range. But the man moved and the bullet hit the concrete and skidded away harmlessly. The man glanced up and fired a volley of shots up at where John was hidden. The hail of gunfire came close, barely missing his head which was the only thing sticking out over the parapet. One got close enough to skim his hair. But perversely, the close call made him focus and the next bullet was a headshot.
There was more shouting and three more people came running round the corner. They fanned out and searched the rooftops frantically. John shot again and as one fell, the others fired up at him. There were shouts, radio calls and more kept coming. John fired off a couple more shots but there were too many of them now. It was time to move.
The rifle he was holding had only one shot left so he fired it and managed to hit one more in the shoulder before discarding it and pushing himself up to his knee. He picked up the other rifle, slung it over his back and tucked the handgun into the back of his jeans. He grabbed his crutches and got to his feet, appreciating the absurdity of what was about to be one of the slowest getaways in history. He swung himself over to the route he'd prearranged with Dorian earlier. The first was to get off the roof, but he knew the InSyndicate guards would be coming up the stairs.
They'd found a couple of wooden planks earlier in one of the loading bays, and between them they'd nailed them together so that they were three abreast and long enough to bridge the gap between this building and the next. It sounded plausible at the time but now that John was looking at it, he was terrified. He stood at the edge and placed the ends of his crutches onto the planks. As he shifted his weight onto them, he felt the planks creak and bow. "This is the lamest parkour ever!" He muttered under his breath as he started to hobble across the planks. He wasn't normally afraid of heights, but this was ridiculous. He wanted to not look down, but he had to watch where he was placing his crutches, it was really narrow. At four floors up, survival was possible, he surmised, but then what? Lie there with a broken leg or back until he was recaptured or someone put a bullet in him?
It was the shouting from down below that pressed him on, they'd be up there in no time and then they'd be putting a bullet in him anyway, so he swung himself forward onto the planks and tried to ignore them shifting as he hurried across. When he got to the other side he let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. The other building had a foot high wall surrounding the edge of the roof, so he clambered down and started to pull the planks across. The plan had been hide the planks behind the wall so there was no indication that he'd made it over. In addition, they'd made a similarly constructed bridge on the other side of the first building so that it looked like he'd gone left instead of right. Hide the planks, hide himself and have them look for him in the wrong direction. Great in theory, he started to pull the makeshift bridge towards him, but as the far end of it left the edge of the building, the weight of it caused it to swing down. John held onto it valiantly, feeling splinters from the rough wood enter his hands, but the thing was just too heavy and it slipped from his grip and clattered into the alleyway below. As it hit the ground it smashed into a dozen pieces, loudly.
There was no way that they wouldn't have heard it, so he'd have to find a new plan. He could hear gunfire down below and assumed that Dorian and Sandra had engaged the last guards. He was on his own now, and had to make the plan work. He dashed as quickly as he could across the roof, aiming for the fire escape that he'd scouted out when they were coming up with this plan. He got there just as the first of the InSyndicate men burst out onto the first rooftop. He could hear them pause as they realised with disbelief that they were chasing a one-legged man, but then there were shouts and John was sprayed with gunfire. John threw himself onto the fire escape, hitting the metal staircase with his shoulder and rolled down a couple of steps. The structure creaked under his weight and the aging bolts that held it to the wall slid out partway. He hauled himself upright using the railings, pulled the handgun from his belt and fired a few shots back.
To his horror, he watched as one of them raced across the rooftop and leapt the gap. He caught the ledge with both hands and hauled himself up. John shot at him, but missed as the man zigged and zagged, getting closer and closer. He could've killed John easily, but their orders must have been to take him alive as the man made it to him and leapt down onto the fire escape with him. But the metal staircase was ancient and rusted and the brick it was attached to was crumbling. The high-speed addition of a second person was enough to completely wrench the bolts from the wall. The fire escape began to fall away from the building it had been attached to and out across the street. The man who had leapt onto it was pitched over the railings by the sudden movement and the situation was so unexpected he didn't have a chance to catch himself. He went sailing through the air and landed with a sickening splat on the faded crosswalk below.
John had already been clinging to the railings in an attempt to keep himself upright, so he wrapped both his arms round the rusted metal and clung on for dear life as he rode the iron framework to the ground. As it crashed into the floor, the metal buckled and the reverberations flung him loose but he hit the ground on his back, having only been in freefall the width of a staircase rather than four floors. There was no time to waste so he pulled himself up, ignoring pain in his battered body. One of his crutches had been crushed under the metal, but miraculously, the other had survived intact.
There were more gunshots and the screeching of tyres, John had lost the handgun in the fall so he readied his last weapon, the rifle on his back. As a black pick-up truck careened into view, John almost shot at it until he recognised Dorian leaning far out of the passenger window and firing behind them. It came to an abrupt halt beside him and Sandra yelled, "Get in!" from the driver's seat. John threw his last rifle and remaining crutch into the back and then hauled himself up and in after them. He had barely levered himself over the edge when Sandra put her foot to the floor and they took off at great speed, dodging the strewn bits of metal all over the street and heading away from the warehouse. Dorian was sat in the open window, facing behind them, holding on with one hand and firing his handgun with the other. Sandra swerved down a side street and away from the cache, leaving the chaos in their wake.
As they turn down a side street and out of sight of their pursuers there was a huge bang that made John almost jump out of his skin. He looked around in panic, a wild look in his eyes but when he looked at Dorian for confirmation he saw the android had a grim yet satisfied smile on his face. Even though he realised that the explosion must have been engineered by his friends, he found it hard to control his racing heart. He hated explosions, or any loud, sudden noises really, hated his inevitable reaction of panic and fear. His mandated therapist had said it was to be expected, and he'd come a long way from hiding under his duvet on the Fourth of July or ducking for cover whenever his toast popped up, but for a while he'd wondered if he'd ever be able to fire his weapon again, and it had taken many hours at the range to be able to even consider being able to return to duty without being a nervous wreck.
John lay in the back of the pick-up trying to catch his breath, he could see thick black smoke billowing into the overcast night sky now and feel the heat of the flames, even though there were a few streets between them and the fire now. As he looked around him he saw that it had been packed with a couple of magazines for both 9mm handguns and assault rifles like the one he carried. There was also a big cardboard box, the top of it was torn and flapping open revealing blocks of what looked like grey modelling clay. Old fashioned C4, and lots of it, against the odds, the first part of the plan was complete and they'd managed to deal an even heavier blow to InSyndicate than originally intended.
"You okay?" Dorian asked, clambering from the cab window and into the back to crouch by John's side, without Sandra ever letting up on the speed.
John propped himself up on his elbows, but it hurt so he lay back down and tried to ignore the way he could feel every little bump in the road. "Never let me pull a crazy stunt like that again." He said through gritted teeth. He could taste blood in his mouth, hoped it was just where he'd bitten his tongue in the fall and not a sign of something worse.
The truck came to a halt and Sandra stepped down from the cab. She came round to the back and peered in, folding her arms over the side and resting her chin on them. "It worked." She said, scrutinising her friend for further injury. "We got everything we need. You pulled enough of them away that getting in was relatively easy."
"Wish I'd had chance to see the looks on their faces as they realised they were involved in a rooftop chase with a cripple." He smiled. "They're not going to be so underprepared next time though. We should hit the DRN warehouse now before they have a chance to step up security."
Dorian shook his head. "Not yet. We've got to regroup, catch our breath."
"That won't be the only warehouse of weapons." John pointed out. "If we give them enough time, they'll come back with more firepower and more guards and taking out our next target will be impossible. They'll have ID'd me by now, they have to realise we're planning on doing more."
Sandra frowned at him as she thought the suggestion over. Dorian looked alarmed, almost frightened, at the idea, reminding John that he was running low on charge and that his emotional responses were likely to become erratic if they couldn't get him charged soon.
"John," Dorian had that face on where he looked like he was about to tear up and his lip was quivering. "You're not well. You need to rest, you need to heal. What they did to you…"
John hated outward displays of emotion, especially when he was feeling so tired and burnt out himself. He ran a hand over his face and tried to ignore the way it trembled. "Dorian, you are right. I'm not well. My injuries are going to take months to heal, I'm missing a goddamn leg. I'm not fit to do this, but if we don't get you charged soon, neither will you be. We need to do this while you're still with us, and if we go back home for reinforcements…? Well I know how InSyndicate works, they'll take the fight to us and innocent people will get killed."
Dorian and John looked to Sandra for the deciding vote. She reached over and gave John's shoulder a comforting squeeze but looked up at Dorian. "Let's finish this!"
Richard Paul knew he wasn't being as helpful as he could be. He sat perched on the edge of Valerie's sofa, her neatly written notes in one hand and his wine glass in the other. But he couldn't help but check his phone every few minutes, even though he knew it was too early to get an update from his ex-wife. He'd managed to get hold of Andy immediately and even though it had been a long time since they'd seen each other, the uniformed cop had left in the middle of dinner with his wife to pick up Janey and the girls and take them to the airport. He felt guilty for not going himself, but since Val had said she had been followed, he was sure it wouldn't be safe. And sure enough, they'd gone into her bedroom in the dark so they could look out of the window without being seen and looked down on a dark vehicle parked on a side street. It could just be someone ignoring the parking restrictions, but it's positioning gave the best view of both Valerie's apartment, the front door to the block and any vehicles coming out of the underground parking lot. If he were staking the place out, it would be exactly where he would park.
He owed Andy big time, and not just the few beers he'd promised him on the end of the phone call. He knew the guy was having his own troubles lately, working all available overtime to pay for IVF after ten years of trying in vain to have a child. There had been a time when the four of them, Richard and Jane, Andy and Cara had done everything together. Janey and Cara had quickly become best friends too and the divorce had made things awkward, unintentionally pushing both relationships towards breaking point as sides were taken in Richard's private war. He was proud of Andy for sticking with his marriage, even though their own friendship had had to take a back seat for it to work. He was so grateful that someone he'd barely spoken to in over a year would just drop everything to help him out, it made him wonder if he'd do the same, but then he looked at himself and Valerie, sacrificing another night's sleep to do what they could to rescue their colleague, who Richard didn't even particularly like, and knew that he would. There was one thing to be said for being a police officer, it instilled a sense of loyalty like few other jobs.
Richard knew that his preconceptions were mostly to blame for the animosity between him and John, although the other detective had done little to endear himself since coming back to the office. He'd proven himself to be everything his reputation said he was; good at his job but also outspoken, reckless, someone who felt that the rules didn't apply to them. In Richard's experience, people like that attracted trouble and often that trouble affected the people around them too. It felt unfair that John had lead his team into that clusterfuck of a raid and had been the only one to make it out the other side, but it wasn't really a surprise, this job seemed to have an unending supply of cocky bastards made of Teflon. What had annoyed him most was the massive crush that the Captain appeared to have for him, and the gooey eyes that Valerie made every time he flirted with her, even Dorian had been taken in by his charms, although the others denied seeing what Richard had dubbed the 'RoBromance' that the two of them had going on. And yet, in spite of his concerns that John would get the people who cared about him killed, and the distaste for rule breaking and the almost non-existent effort he put into his wardrobe, he found that even he was being taken in by the unstoppable force that was John Kennex. He'd allowed himself to be dragged into this crusade, jumped in with both feet actually, and as a result his family had been threatened. He wanted to blame John for the mess they were in, but he knew he had no one to blame but himself.
He checked his phone again, nothing since Andy's last message to tell him he'd waved Janey and the kids goodbye at the departure gate. The flight was three hours, so they would be arriving soon, he'd arranged for Janey's parents to pick her up, even though he'd had to listen to a tirade from her mother first. He would feel better once he knew they were safely across the country, protected by Janey's dad, a grumpy old ex-army sergeant who had always kept an almost disturbing number of guns. This little incident would only serve to prove he had never been 'man enough' to protect their precious little girl, he thought bitterly, but at least they'd be safe.
"Mm, I think I've got it!" Valerie exclaimed, gulping down her mouthful of wine and reminding Richard he should be working, not wallowing in resentment. She was sat cross-legged on the floor in front of her coffee table. She handed over her data tablet to show him what she'd found and scrambled over so that she was sitting on the floor beside him, close enough that she could lean over and point out what he was looking at.
"So, one of John's notes has been bugging me for ages. 'Keynote at Oxford?' He didn't write down when this happened or who it referred to, so I've been using the decryption software that Rudy gave me to search through airline passenger logs and found Anna flew into London Heathrow four times in the year before the raid. I've been looking at the flight manifests from here to London around the same time and look who I've found entering the country a day before and returning two days after." She pointed at a name on a list of passengers.
"Shit!" Richard cursed, recognising the name immediately. "You sure? I mean it's a strong accusation, you sure he's not just gone to play a round of golf?"
Valerie gave him a grim smile, "I know, right? Which is why I double checked the dates. Firstly, it's a week before John's raid, and there were all sorts of things happening at the time. They were in the middle of the inquest regarding the XRN incident, I doubt the Chief of Police would fly all the way to the UK in the middle of that unless it was important, and yet I've checked news outlets and press releases and can't find any meetings or conferences publicised."
"So, if this thing goes that high up, then we really can't trust anyone. Chief Phillips has a lot of friends in high places."
"We should go to the FBI with it." Valerie suggested but Richard shook his head.
"Wasn't there some rumour that he went to Yale with the regional director?" The thought for a moment. "What about Senator McAndrews? She was a big voice against the roll out of robotics in law enforcement and was a strong voice against Phillips' counter terrorism measures. I hardly agree with her politics but I'm fairly sure she's not in with any sort of clique."
Valerie nodded her agreement. "It's the middle of the night and our accusations are based on a lot of coincidences and conjecture. Do you think she'd want to be woken with this?"
"We have the evidence the meet took place, and we know what was said. I think we'd be criticised for not telling her immediately, and the longer we wait the longer Kennex and the others are in danger."
They got up together and grabbed their coats, Richard was glad the anxiety of waiting for news of his family meant he'd barely touched his wine, because Val's anger at her argument with Jake had made her gulp hers down. As they left the apartment he held out his hand for her car key and she handed it over without comment.
He looked at the young woman as they waited for the elevator. "You know she'll want to know how we got this information. What we've done to get this is illegal, are you ready for the fallout?"
If he'd expected Valerie to look nervous, he was proven wrong. "The end justifies the means, right?"
Richard rolled his eyes, "You've been hanging out with Kennex too long."
They went down to the underground parking lot and marched over to Valerie's car. Valerie usually avoided the traffic and took the train to work so Richard had never seen what car she drove. He'd been expecting something nice but had not been expecting a classic Porsche 911, not when Richard had to struggle to juggle rent and alimony payments on the same salary.
Valerie looked embarrassed by the ostentation. "It was a gift." She explained, but then seemed to realise that made the decadence even worse. Who gave a classic sports car as a gift? No one in Richard's world.
He settled into the driver's seat and couldn't suppress a grin as he turned the ignition and it roared to life. He pulled out of the parking lot, glancing in the rear-view mirror as they pulled away down the street while Valerie called ahead. Sure enough, the car they'd noticed parked across the street pulled out and started to follow them. He knew Senator McAndrews had a house upstate, but he drove in the opposite direction in the hope of losing his tail in the tightly packed streets downtown. He'd been a uniformed cop not far from Val's apartment and as a result the city layout in that area was forever embedded in his mind, it would be the best place to evade the dark car that was keeping a steady distance behind them.
Valerie was arguing with the person on the other end of the phone, trying to press the necessity of a meeting without sounding like a crazed conspiracy theorist. Richard had to ignore what was being said to concentrate on his driving. He breathed a sigh of relief as the streets became familiar and he turned left down a one-way street and immediate right into a narrow alleyway. He heard Valerie's sharp intake of breath at the decision, the alley was narrow and didn't look big enough for the expensive sports car but Richard had done it a dozen times in pursuits and knew if he concentrated he could do it just right without needing to hit the brakes.
The pursuing car realised that they'd been made and threw an attempt any hiding out the window. Emboldened by Richard's confidence in taking the alley, the car behind then accelerated after them. They were almost to the end when the other car hit a pot hole in the dark, catching the front passenger side wheel. It didn't take much at that speed to knock it from the precise line it needed to take and there was a loud crunch as the fender crunched into the side wall. The driver struggled to recover it but overcompensated and bounced off the initial impact and into the opposite wall, smashing a headlight and buckling the hood. Richard didn't hang around long enough to check the damage that had been done to the other vehicle, it was unlikely to have written it off, but it would be enough to slow them down. Richard shot out of the alley into the next street at put his foot to the floor to get away. The Porsche peeled away, engine growling, and Richard threw Valerie an excited grin. Despite the severity of the situation, he felt like a kid at Christmas. Valerie just looked mildly terrified at him.
He cut through another couple of streets before he made his way towards the highway. Valerie finished her conversation and hung up the phone. "We've got our meeting, the Senator is expecting us at her house, I've got the address."
"Good work Val, I…" Richard saw what was going to happen a split second before it did, as a dark truck cut across the street and aimed directly for them. He spun the wheel and put his foot to the floor to dodge the incoming vehicle, but the truck was travelling too fast. The Porsche was fast enough to get mostly out of the way but the truck clipped its tail end and caused the sports car to spin. The impact caused both Richard and Valerie to launch forward against their seat belts but thankfully wasn't enough to deploy the airbags. Richard felt the adrenaline course through his veins as he shifted the car into reverse and sped backwards away from the truck, executing a J-turn as he got enough acceleration. He slammed his foot on the break and he spun the wheel to full lock, knocking the stick into first gear all in one smooth move and as the vehicle slid round with a screech of tyres he let out an exuberant laugh.
"You're enjoying this too much." Valerie said as they pulled away. There was the sound of gunfire after them, and a bullet smashed the rear window and exited through the soft-top leaving a jagged hole in the fabric. The Porsche was too fast for them to be caught through and they were soon leaving them in their dust.
"You okay?" Richard asked, glancing over at his colleague.
"Yeah I think so. You?" she replied, rubbing the back of her neck.
"Whiplash is gonna hurt like a bitch in the morning." He warned. "But so far so good. Sorry about your car."
She just shrugged. "Let's just get this done." She spoke through gritted teeth.
They drove in silence the rest of the way, apart from the directions that Valerie read off the GPS on her phone. Soon they were pulling up outside the ornate gates of a large property. The android security guard on the door listened to their explanation and used retinal scanning to confirm they were who they said they were. Despite having all of the personality programming of an MX, it still managed to look unimpressed at the state of their vehicle and dubious at allowing them access, but eventually the gates were opened and they were allowed into the compound.
Richard drove up the tree-lined driveway and then pulled up outside the large 19th century mansion. The senator and her assistant were already stood outside awaiting them, having been notified by the guard. The assistant was still dressed in a figure hugging trouser suit and looked every bit the professional. By comparison, the Senator was dressed in an old cardigan, yoga pants and slippers, she had no make up on and her usually immaculate hair was in disarray. Surprisingly, her look was a comfort to Richard, he hated politicians and their phoney personas but here she was looking like a normal human. He could tell Valerie was less impressed though and probably thought she'd had time to at least dress the part for their meeting.
Richard got out of the car, feeling a little stiff, the effects of the car crash already setting in, but he ignored it and held out his hand, shaking that of the Senator and then her assistant.
"Sorry about the lateness of the hour Senator. I'm Detective Richard Paul and this is my colleague Detective Valerie Stahl. We've uncovered something disturbing and feel you'd be the best person to speak to about it."
"What on earth happened to your car Detective? Are you both alright?" McAndrews asked, astonished.
Richard glanced over his shoulder at the sports car, there were scrapes and dents along the side towards the rear, tail light smashed and rear hubcap missing. It could've been worse but he dreaded to think how much it would cost to get fixed on such an expensive car. "Ma'am, someone really didn't want us getting this information to you."
"Well, then you'd best come inside and tell me what you've found." She said, holding the door open for the pair of detectives to enter. She smiled at her assistant, "Madga, put the coffee on dear, I think it's going to be a long night."
Dorian had shut most of his functions down days ago to conserve power, leaving him with physical functioning, cognitive functioning, visuals, speech and audio. His personality had taken a hit more as a result of the low power rather than him fiddling with his parameters and as a result he was a lot less chatty than usual, only speaking when necessary, mostly to voice his opinions on John's suicidal plans. But the humans weren't listening to him anyway so he had decided to stop. For John, this reckless behaviour was to be expected, and in a way he was thankful, as it showed him that the battered man in front of had refused to sink into the depressed lethargy that Dorian knew he was prone to. The fact that Captain Maldonado seemed to have given up her better judgement and was running headlong into danger with him was a puzzle. But he knew that for the two of them this was a war they'd started years ago and they needed it to be over.
Not having access to all his usual systems was unnerving. His synthetic soul was an ingrained part of who he was, it influenced his thoughts and what he felt about things, but he still made most of his decisions based off analysis of data and calculating possible outcomes. It wasn't John's way at all, the infuriating human had told him more than once "never tell me the odds!", usually as he was about to fly in the face of reason and do something stupid. It had taken a chance movie night at Rudy's place before Dorian had realised that John had been quoting an old sci-fi character that he clearly felt an affinity with, there had been more than one quotation from that film that Dorian now recognised as part of John's usual repertoire. But what worked for John, would not work for Dorian and he stll felt more assured being able to confirm with logic and reasoning that the choices he made were right. Walking around with half his functions inactive was a bit like doing things blindfolded. He was tempted to bring up his scanning software to check on his friends, at least then he could make a fair assessment on their physical ability to complete this next mission, although he could already guess at what it would reveal; elevated stress indicators, racing heartrates, too much adrenaline and too few energy reserves. The signs of pain and fatigue were evident and if he could actually quantify the inflammatory indicators in their blood or see the pain receptors flare in their nervous system, then he knew it would only upset him further. Perhaps he was starting to see John's side after all.
He gave John a long look now as the man got wearily into the driver's seat of the truck and pulled the door closed with a wince as it slammed shut. Some of the bruising had lessened in the few days since they'd found him, and although his face was still a myriad of different colours, at least some of the swelling had gone down enough to make him recognisible as his friend. He smiled at Dorian, his lips cracked and ever so slightly quivering with bottled up pain, a smile that was meant to be reassuring. "I'll be alright." He promised quietly, as though he knew what the android had been about to say. "The important thing is we take them out while we have the chance, stop them from hurting anyone else."
Dorian squeezed his shoulder in response. "We will man." He promised.
John cleared his throat and called out to Sandra who was in the back of the truck, double checking the assault rifle that she had slung over her shoulder. "We ready?"
"Yeah." She called from the back. Dorian nodded and gave John a pat on the arm before leaping into the back of the truck with Sandra. As John pulled away, Dorian stuffed the blocks of explosives into his pockets and sat opposite Sandra, exchanging grim but determined looks.
As John drove them to the warehouse, Dorian tried to think of something profound to say. He felt like they were going into battle, one that John at least didn't seem hopeful about surviving. So many sacrifices had been made already and if Dorian was truthful, he was terrified that they'd come so far into this that they would no longer be able to judge which sacrifices would be too great a price to pay. Maybe John was right, and that no cost was too great, or maybe they'd all go down in a blaze of glory and nothing would change, InSyndicate could still pick up the pieces and continue their reign of terror and it would all be for nothing.
In the end there was no time to say anything, profound or otherwise, as John approached the warehouse slowly, headlights off to make them less noticeable, they could see that reinforcements had been called for already. There were seven vehicles parked out the front of the building and as they skirted round they could see another three at the back. Dorian counted twenty InSyndicate soldiers on his visual scanners, he brought up his heat scanners and found a further four inside. Sandra and Dorian slipped out the back of the truck and without a word John drove off.
As John drove away he put his foot to the floor and turned on his full beams. Sandra and Dorian watched from the cover of darkness as panic hit the waiting guards and they scrambled for their weapons. John let out an almighty whoop that descended into a crazed laugh as he tossed a grenade at the group. Someone leapt out into the middle of the road and opened automatic fire at John's truck but he kept his course and increased the acceleration. Realising too late that John was going to win this lethal game of chicken, the gunman left it too late to leap out of the way and got clipped by the wing mirror, sending him spinning to the floor, just as the greanade exploded, catching the two nearest vehicles and sending them flying into the air in a ball of hot flame. One was blown back and landed on its roof, crushing someone underneath it, the other spun in the air and landed down on a smaller vehicle, almost completely flattening it. There were screams as soldiers were caught in the blast and they were thrown back. The detonation caught the rear of John's truck, lifting its rear wheels from the tarmac but he fought for control of the steering and managed to keep it straight. As he spun the wheel and disappeared down a side street he rolled another grenade towards the group of cars. The others were quicker at responding this time and fled but they were still knocked off their feet by the blast and it caught another car spinning it into the wreckage of the other three.
"Crazy bastard!" Maldonado whispered under her breath as they watched him go, but she couldn't hide the smile on her lips. She turned and looked at Dorian. "You ready?"
Dorian nodded. "I'll lead you in." He started off at a dash down a street to the rear of the warehouse, coming to an abrupt halt at the end and peering round the corner. They were two blocks down from where the smaller cluster of vehicles were positioned along the back of the building. John had mentioned that there was no way in from the back but that seemed unlikely. There had to be a fire escape Dorian figured, it had to be the side furthest from them. They'd needed more time to prepare, but everything had moved so fast that they hadn't been able to do any recon. He powered up his full scanners and switched to infra red for better night vision. Once his systems were on full he could see the situation better, there was a fire escape door but it wouldn't be easy to get to.
"Follow me." Dorian whispered and ran keeping close to the wall to stay out of the light. He ducked into the doorway of the nearest building and waited for Sandra to catch him up before jimming the lock. As they let themselves in there was a shout and an eruption of gunfire. Dorian shielded Sandra with his body, feeling a spray of bullets hitting against his back plate as he ushered her in. The building had been offices once, a large dusty lobby with a coffee shop in one corner, lead off into smaller rooms. He slammed the door shut behind them and ignored all that and headed for the stairwell.
"Get to the roof, I'll catch you up." He ordered. Sandra did as she was told and started up the stairs two at a time. Dorian spun round, a gun in each hand as the door burst open and a small group of InSyndicate soldiers burst through. Soldiers, Dorian realised, was not the word. Only one looked like they had any military experience, the others were skinny teens, armed to the teeth and angry, but sloppy and unused to fire. Dorian had the heart to feel for them, remembering what John had said about life on this side of the wall. They weren't the callous terrorists that had taken out John's team, killed his best friend and destroyed his leg, they were kids, looking to make a living in a harsh world. The thought made him pause and as a result, the first bullet to be fired buried its way into Dorian's shoulder. But he could hear the gunfire and shouting outside, could hear the heavy breathing and clumsy footfalls of Maldonado as she raced up the stairs, and he knew he couldn't let that stop him. Even so, it took for the second bullet to hit him, before he opened fire, taking out the small group with precise headshots to each one of them.
Sandra was almost at the top by the time Dorian caught her up. It was a long way up and the petite woman was breathing heavily by the time they got out onto the roof. It was cold and the wind whipped at them as they crossed over to the edge. He felt Sandra balk beside him as they peered down at the roof of the warehouse that was four floors and a street's width away from them. The street below had been turned into a warzone. From up here they could see John's truck, now with smoke pouring from the engine parked further down the road. He'd kicked out the smashed windscreen and appeared to be hunkered down in the footwell, using the engine block as ballistic cover while he returned fire. InSyndicate seemed to be advancing on him slowly, but John had always had a good eye and was doing well at holding them off. Something else went sailing out of the truck and another grenade exploded, sending further flames and screaming ino the air.
There was someone off to his right that he seemed to have missed though, a figure in dark clothing creeping ever further forward towards John. Dorian raised his rifle and took the shot. The bullet hit the man in the head and he went down instantly. Dorian was worried that it would cause the others to panic and see them on the roof but there was too much chaos for the soldiers to notice. He pulled a pin on a grenade and threw it off the roof down into the crowd, hoping to thin the crowds that were aiming for the injured detective.
It was tempting to watch John and his one-man-war with a mix of fear and awe, but they had their own job to do and couldn't be distracted.
"You want to go down there don't you?" Sandra said with trepidation at the gap in front of them. "You know there's no way…"
"Do you trust me?" He took her hand and lead her away from the edge, and then, before she could answer or protest, he picked her up, sliding his arms under her legs and wrapping them round his body. He clasped her to his chest tightly and whispered, "Hold tight." Too stunned to do anything other than obey, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled her legs around his hips as he started to run. He could feel the rising panic in her but he refused to allow her time to process what was about to happen. With one huge push, his feet left the end of the building and suddenly they were flying through the air. Sandra let out an uncharacteristic yelp as they became airbourne, but in an instant it was over, his feet impacting into the flat roof on the other side, the shockwaves of the landing reverberating up his legs causing him to sink to his knees but only momentarily as he regained his equilibrium and stood.
"Holy shit!" Sandra whispered into his neck, arms shaking as she released her grip. Dorian steadied her as she found her footing, feeling slightly guilty at the shock he'd caused the poor woman. But to her credit, as soon as she was stood on solid ground again she pushed the shakiness to the side and drew her weapon, brushing her unruly hair back from her face and taking a deep breath. "Let's go." She said and suddenly it was Dorian having to jog to catch up with her.
The door to the stairs was heavy metal and bolted. But the bolts were rusty and it took only a firm pull for Dorian to wrench it free. Ignoring the shouting and gunfire from the street, he took point again as they started down the concrete steps as quietly as they could. Scans showed that the heat signatures had all moved to the firefight outside, which should give them a clear path.
Walking through the first door they came to, they found themselves on a metal gantry overlooking the large open space of the warehouse floor. The building was huge, rows and rows of tables were laid out, and on each one of them was an exact replica of him staring up at them with lifeless eyes.
"Dorian?" Sandra asked, giving him a nudge. As soon as they'd made it into the warehouse and had seen all the other DRN's he'd frozen in place. She supposed it couldn't be easy for him, but they couldn't afford to stop now.
"Erm, yeah." He said, pulling himself out of his thoughts. No wonder John kept forgetting he was an android, Sandra thought, he looked so vulnerably human. He turned to her and gave her a serious look. "I know I'm asking for a lot of trust today, but I want to try something, can you set the charges but not the timer? Not yet."
Sandra found herself nodding. "As long as you know what you're doing."
"Yeah." He confirmed. "Just give me some time."
"John doesn't have much time." She pointed out, knowing it was unnecessary, John was never far from Dorian's thoughts.
"I know. Give me five minutes."
She nodded and watched as he raced down to the shopfloor. As he got to the first DRN she watched him ghost his hand over the robot's eyes, sliding them closed with a sad reverence before moving over to a computer terminal in the corner of the room. He flicked a switch on a generator and the screen came to life, reaching for a cable and attaching it to a port just beneath his left ear. Sandra had never been very tech savvy and so wouldn't have the first clue what Dorian was looking for but she knew he wouldn't have bothered unless it was important, so she turned her attention to her own task and started setting the C4 charges.
They were of an old style plastic explosive, they basically looked like pieces of grey modelling clay that she deposited in various places round the room. Without being a structural engineer it took a bit of guesswork but she put some in the four corners of the room and then some more on the pillars in the centre of the room. Into each bit of explosive she fitted a detonator and attached them to each other with wires. All it would take was a small current to set them all off. Once everything was looped together with the wire she knelt on the floor and pulled out the timer from her pocket. It was the easiest device in the world to set, attach the wires to the contact points and then set the desired time. As it counted down a small battery inside would send an electric current into the wire and detonate the explosive. She had no idea what kind of firepower this stuff had but she was going to assume a lot which is why she wanted to give them enough time to get away.
Placing the wires on the contacts was harder than it should be. Despite having done her best to maintain an outward level of calm, it was not extending to her fingers. Adrenaline was making her hands shake and she struggled to to twist the wire onto the small prongs. Suddenly there was a large bang as the door flew open with enough force to nearly take it off it's hinges. Sandra looked up to see the room being stormed by soldiers. Dorian jumped into action, still attached to the computer and started firing. He took two down instantly, but there were too many of them, and one of them fired a taser in retaliation. The prongs hit Dorian in the chest and he sank to the floor as the electric current coursed through his body. Unlike a human reaction to being hit with a taser, Dorian's body was completely rigid, eyes staring blankly ahead, unseeing, dead, just like the hundreds of others they were surrounded by.
There were too many of them, Sandra knew she would never be able to overpower them. This was it, their last stand was over. She hoped that at least John had been able to get away, but judging by the numbers that had come for her, she knew it was a false hope. But it was too late to dwell on that now, she focused on controlling her shaking hands and managed to get the second wire fitted to the detonator. As soon as she completed the circuit she whispered a silent prayer, squeezed her eyes shut and pressed the button on the top of the detonator.
Nothing happened. She opened her eyes and stared at it. She clicked the button again, nothing. She tapped at it frantically, but although it had been connected correctly there was no ignition. Suddenly, strong hands seized her arms and someone else tried to wrench the device from her grip. She lashed out, kicking and thrashing and clicking the detonation button over and over in desperation until one of them headbutted her and twisted her thumb off the switch until there was a sickening snap. Her head reeling from the impact, she blinked back the grey that crept into the edges of her vision as she was hauled to her feet and dragged backwards towards the door.
She watched more soldiers on Dorian, one of them was detaching him from the computer and fitting some sort of small metal device to the port in his neck. He looked dead, for lack of a better word, his face slack and emotionless, she'd never seen him look so inhuman, even when he had been powered down he always just looked like he was sleeping. But then, just as she was torn from the warehouse, she was sure she saw him blink.
Sandra continued to struggle and kick as she was pulled out into the street and through the carnage that had been left behind. A car burned, sending black smoke whirling up into the sky and bathing the macabre scene in an eerie orange glow. Her feet skidded over spent bullets. She twisted out of their grip and landed hard on her back on the scorched road, coming face to face with the burned corpse of one of their soldiers. But before she had the chance to get up she was set upon by three men. They rolled her over and pinned her to the floor while another produced some plastic cable ties and grappled with her until he was able to snap them tight around her wrists, effectively cuffing her hands behind her back. When she was hauled to her feet a second time she continued to resist but it was a half-hearted attempt that she no longer felt.
Her eyes stung with unshed tears as she was dragged passed John's truck. The windshield lay across the hood, full of a thousand tiny cracks and the bodywork was riddled with bullet holes. The driver's door had been flung open and there was a dark stain of blood on the seat. John was nowhere to be seen. Following on behind them, another group of soldiers dragged Dorian's body across the ground.
A door up ahead flung open and Sandra was lead towards it. She was pulled up the steps and into a large room. As she took in the scene in front of her she sank to her knees, unable to process the horror of what was happening. John was sat tied to a wooden chair in the centre of the room facing away from her. He had been stripped of his jacket and had a new wound in his shoulder, blood soaking through his tee shirt from a ragged hole through his shoulder, staining a path down to the hem where it collected before steadily dripping on the floor. He was slumped over, head lolling to the side, leg splayed out in front of him. If he hadn't been tied, he looked like he'd have slid off the seat to the floor. His chest heaved, muscles taught under the thin fabric, his breathing sounded laboured. Stood over him was a middle-aged man in a smart shirt and jeans. He looked like he'd just left a causal business meeting except he had a piece of fabric wrapped around his hand like a boxer, the knuckles were blood stained, his fist drawn back as though he was about to land another punch. Beyond him stood Anna, her arms folded across her chest, an almost bored expression on her face and a man in a scruffy suit who it took her a moment to place before she realised it was the robot creator Nigel Vaughn.
John could feel unconsciousness creeping at the edges of his vision, he’d promised himself that as soon as he heard the explosion from the warehouse then he’d give up and allow himself to succumb to the darkness. But it had been a long time, hadn’t it? He had a sickening feeling that they’d failed. Instead the door opened and he heard more people behind him enter. He recognised Sandra’s voice as she whimpered his name under her breath, and the utterance shattered his resolve. It had to be over, the terrorists had won and now it was all for nothing. InSyndicate would unleash their synthetic army upon the wall and bring it crashing down along with any kind of safety and security it afforded. They would have all the power that John had been fighting to keep from them for all these years and they wouldn’t think twice about using lethal force to get their way. And perhaps more upsetting was that John had dragged his two closest friends into this disaster with him, they’d sacrificed themselves for him and it was all for nothing.
The man who had been beating on him unwrapped the shirt from his hand and flexed his knuckles before retrieving another chair from the side of the room and placing it beside John. John didn’t have the strength to lift his head to see behind him, but there was a dragging noise and suddenly Sandra was being manhandled into the chair next to him. It was Anna who stepped forward and tied the police captain to the chair, with cable ties looping round the biceps and through the back of the seat.
“You fucking bitch!” Sandra spat, her eyes wild and her hair falling in front of her face. Anna just looked at her with a cold expression, but there was the smallest flicker of something else there as well. Remorse? John shook the thought away, probably just wishful thinking.
On John’s other side, a pair of soldiers dragged Dorian, depositing him slumped against the wall and giving his leg a kick as they stood back. The DRN was limp and unmoving, some sort of inhibitor stuck to his neck, but his eyes were open. John shot him a concerned look and then ever so slowly, he blinked.
“Together again huh?” He found himself saying.
There was a twitch of recognition from Dorian and then he slurred the next line back to him, “Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Are you done with your cute little displays of affection?” Anna asked placing her hands on her hips and staring down at the three of them.
John turned his head aside and spat blood onto the floor. “Are you done pretending that you’re okay with what these people are doing here?” He countered. She slapped him, a savage backhand across the face that snapped his head to the side. He grinned at her, blood staining his teeth and running down his chin. “You know what always used to piss you off most? It was when I was right and you knew it.”
“Enough!” The man in the shirt and jeans barked, causing Anna to shrink back towards him. “The next words out of your mouth will be to tell me who knows about your investigation or you’ll regret it.” He stepped forward, wrapping his fist again.
“Regret it? I regret this whole fuckin’ thing.” John laughed. “I’ve got myself killed, I’ve got my friends killed, for what?”
“No one is dead yet Kennex. If you say the right thing you could influence the manner in which you all die.”
“Fantastic!” His voice dripping with sarcasm. The next punch caught his left brow and split it open, tracking blood into his eye. The one after knocked him completely over, the chair he was strapped to tipped and with only one leg he was unable to steady it. As it toppled he crashed into Sandra sat next to him, his head momentarily in her lap before slipping away from her and ending up in an undignified pile at her feet, feeling dazed.
The man laughed. Vaughn who had yet to say anything looked a little sickened. Sandra turned into a pent-up ball of fury. “Stop it! Get away from him!” She screamed, kicking out as the well-dressed thug got near them, with enough force to propel him staggering backwards.
“Sandra no!” John pleaded, his voice cracking, unable to do anything as one of the soldiers pulled a large knife from the back of his jeans and went to stand behind her, grabbing her head to his chest and putting the knife to her throat. John tried to twist round to defend her in some way, but he was trapped. On the other side of the room he could see Dorian almost trembling as he tried to fight the paralysis of the inhibitor to no avail. Sandra gulped and the knife cut into her neck, blood welling up along the blade.
“Give it up Kennex.” Nigel Vaughn said, he sounded almost panicked, “You and your friends have failed. Our influence on this side of the wall is too great. We have our army and we will take back what’s ours. You saw how destructive Danica could be, you were there at her unveiling when it took three days for your people to subdue her. Imagine what can be achieved with 500 DRN’s all with just as much firepower.”
“Imagine.” Dorian said quietly from the far corner.
Vaughn turned to the prostrate android and was about to retort when the door opened again and five DRN’s rushed through. Within seconds they had tackled the soldiers and had commandeered their weapons, it was almost too fast to comprehend. One of them strode up to the man holding Sandra, jabbed him in the head with a quick fist and took the knife from the woman’s throat, watching calmly as the man fell unconscious to the floor.
“Are you alright?” The DRN asked, and of course it was in Dorian’s voice. The whole thing was very weird, especially for John, who was so dazed that he’d been struggling to follow what was said anyway. The other DRN’s stood round with their newly acquired weapons pointed at the soldiers they’d taken them from. The DRN that had just disarmed Sandra’s attacker used the knife to cut her bonds and then knelt to free John. Another moved to Dorian and with a quick click removed the inhibitor from his neck.
As John felt his bonds release, his aching arms fell in front of him. He tried to push himself up but it only caused agony to flare in his new gunshot wound and his trembling arms wouldn’t support his weight. He felt Sandra’s hands, gentle on his shoulders and he sank momentarily into her touch quite against his will. In an instant, Dorian was beside him too and together they helped him to sit. John felt the blood rush to his head as he was suddenly upright, and hugged his left arm close to his body to protect his wounded shoulder. He got his foot underneath him and pushed down on Dorian’s shoulder, the android helping him to stand. If this was going to be how it all ended, then he was determined not to take his fate laying down. Dorian seemed to understand this and helped, keeping his arm wrapped around his friend for security but allowing him the space to at least appear stronger than he felt. The other DRN’s seemed to sense the same thing and they stepped closer to them in a manner that felt profoundly protective.
“You’re all fools.” The man in the shirt laughed, despite his obvious penchant for violence, he was clearly in charge. “These DRN’s are InSyndicate property, they work for us.”
“There was no way you have time to reprogram them.” Vaughn pointed out. “The procedures are too complex…”
“Actually, I didn’t have to.” Dorian explained. He held his hand out casually and one of the DRN’s placed a handgun in it. He aimed it at the unknown male. “You did all that for me when you gave them your synthetic souls. All I did was give them access to my own memories and let them decide for themselves.”
Vaughn’s face fell as he realised what had happened but the other man seemed too arrogant to believe it. “You think you can destroy InSyndicate with this little stunt? There are too many of us, our hold is too far reaching, we have a global network and what you see here is only a part.”
“Perhaps.” John said emotionlessly, “But it’s a good goddamn start.” And he reached out and snatched a handgun from the hand of a DRN. As he swung it round to aim, the man in charge reached behind him for a concealed weapon, but John was faster on the trigger. The shots rang out and hit their target point blank, two bullets blowing a big hole in his chest and killing him instantly. He fell backwards and landed heavily on the floor, his fingers clasped limply round the large .50 cal handgun. Nigel Vaughn stared at his dead colleague in fear and then snatched the gun up and frantically pulled the trigger. In his panic, the shot went wide but Dorian didn’t give him chance to try again, firing once and hitting him in the head, the robot engineer sinking to the ground beside the other man.
Anna had also pulled a gun from the back of her jeans and held it steady, aimed at John. John turned to her but didn’t fire. The whole room seemed to be frozen in place while they waited to see what would happen next.
“Drop the gun and leave.” John ordered, with more detachment than he felt. “And you.” He indicated to the young soldiers who were stood sheepishly off to the side, still under the careful watch of the other DRN’s. They took no convincing and scrambled to their feet practically fighting each other to be the first out the door. Anna didn’t move though, just stared at him with an unreadable expression.
“You can think about shooting me, you might even be faster than me on the trigger, but do you think you’re faster than an army of DRN’s?”
“You should kill me now, you finally have the chance.” Anna said coldly. “But you always were a romantic.” She placed her gun carefully on the floor and kicked it so that it skidded out of reach. “Take care of yourself John.”
She sauntered out with the same confidence she’d always carried herself and didn’t look back. John watched her go but as soon as she was out of sight, the last of his energy drained from him and he collapsed into Dorian. The android reacted quickly wrapping both arms around him and steadying him before easing him to the ground. They sat together on the floor for a moment, with Dorian’s arms pulling him close and John’s head resting on Dorian’s shoulder, too exhausted to move or protest, Sandra knelt beside them and ran a hand through John’s tousled hair and planting a motherly kiss on the top of his head.
“That’s it.” She promised. “It’s over. Let’s go home.”
For John, the next events were a blur. He slipped in and out of consciousness as one of the DRN’s dressed his wounds with a rudimentary first aid kit found god knows where and surrounded by half a dozen others who hovered over him anxiously, until he’d slurred at them to go away as they were freaking him out. Sandra sat beside him the entire time, clutching his hand and giving him a tear-streaked smile, her broken hand held together in an improvised splint.
It was hours later when Dorian came back with a grin on his face. The other DRN had long since finished their ministrations and was standing guard at the door while John and Sandra drifted in an out of an exhausted sleep, huddled in their coats. “We’re all set to go.” He announced to the two humans, crouching down to help John up. “Come on man, your chariot awaits.” He joked.
John was too tired to reply but gave him a wan smile.
“Did you get a charge?” Sandra asked him, knowing that by now he must have been running very low.
“A little. Enough to get us home. If the car makes it that far. John was very liberal with those grenades, there’s not much out there that’s still running.” Together they hobbled out into the dawn light to the awaiting car. It was an old sedan and had been suffering with rust even before it had been subjected to the dramas of the day. There were bullet holes in the door and the rear passenger window had been smashed. There were two DRN’s stood outside guarding it and they opened the rear door and swept the glass from the backseat so that Dorian could help John inside. Once in, John pulled the stump of his right thigh up to rest along the seats and sat slumped against the door. Sandra got into the front passenger seat and then they waited quietly while Dorian said goodbye to the DRN’s which he did by embracing them with an enthusiastic hug.
When Dorian joined them in the car and turned the ignition, the engine made an unhealthy sputtering sound and took longer than it should before coming to life. As they pulled away, the small group of DRN’s waved and John found himself giving a small wave back. He settled down into his seat and revelled in the feeling of being on the road to home. He could feel the cold breeze on his face from the smashed window, and although it was bitterly cold, it kept him alert and he enjoyed the feeling and the view of the city as they raced through it. The sun was just coming up above the tops of the dilapidated buildings and highlighted the clouds with pink. Despite the devastation that had been wrought over the past hours, it was going to be a beautiful day.
As they headed for the highway they passed close to Our Lady Of Mercy, he could see the belltower over the tops of the other buildings. He thought sadly of Carrie and Sophie and wondered what would become of them. They would have been able to hear the explosions and gunfire and see the flames lighting the night sky. John imagined that they’d spent the night in the belltower watching the battle unfold and worrying about whether the fight would come to their door. John also wondered whether they’d spared a thought for him, they must have known he’d been involved. Had they worried about him? Or had they hoped InSyndicate would put a bullet in his brain and be done with it?
By the time they got to the edges of the city, Sandra had fallen asleep, huddled in her coat against the cold. She looked exhausted and John was struck with how much of a risk the woman had taken for him, again. He truly did not know what he’d done to inspire such loyalty and he felt quite overwhelmed by it.
He turned his attention to Dorian, who had been driving in silence since they got in the car. That was so unlike him that suddenly John was worried. “Hey D, are you okay?”
“It’s me who should be asking you that man.” Dorian said quietly.
“Yeah, but it can’t have been easy.” John ventured. “I mean, I know you didn’t really know Nigel Vaughn, but in a way, he’s kinda your dad.”
Dorian nodded and sighed. “Yeah, it kinda feels that way. But I guess I’m mostly worrying about how someone like that could make someone like me.”
“D, a lot of people have terrible parents, the minute they put that synthetic soul in you, you became your own person.”
“I hope so, I kind of put all my faith in it.”
John nodded. “When you woke up the DRN’s?”
Dorian nodded. “I was interrupted in the download. I put as many of my own memories in them as I could and had to hope they’d want to help us.”
“What’s going to happen to them now?”
Dorian shrugged. “That’s up to them. I just have to hope they make the right decisions. I know it wasn’t the plan but I couldn’t kill them without giving it a try.”
“It’s okay. I’m sure they’ll be fine, they take after you after all. I should have known you wouldn’t be able to destroy them, and I should have never have asked you to.”
“The Captain pressed the detonator.” Dorian said after a pause, glancing over at the sleeping woman. “I’d been taken out, there were too many of them to fight and so she pressed the button. It didn’t work, the battery must have been damaged, but she had prepared to die. I don’t know how she’s going to feel about that when it hits her.”
John nodded thoughtfully, “I’ll make sure I speak to her about it.”
“Do you want to talk?”
“Oh, I don’t know, the fact it was your kamikaze mission, or that you were tortured, or Anna.”
“Right,” John said slowly. “No I don’t.”
“I know about the ring John. Sandra showed me, we were at your place looking for your investigation.”
“I said I didn’t want to talk about it.” He said gruffly.
“Don’t push me Dorian.” He said, but he wasn’t angry, just tired.
“I’m sorry. I’m just worried about you.”
“I know buddy, I just… let me get home first okay?”
“Okay.” Dorian agreed, just as the car spluttered and died.
Valerie always felt a little thrill as they were about to conduct a warrant. Even if, like now, it was unlikely that they would meet with any resistance. Today, that adrenaline was there not because she expected a fight, but because they were about to serve a warrant on the Chief of Police. The FBI agents who were stood in the hall with them now, had asked her and Paul if they'd wanted to tag along, and they'd both felt unable to say no, but at the same time, Valerie was finding that accusing her boss of involvement with terrorism was in itself terrifying. If they couldn't get the charges to stick then it was unlikely that either of them would still have a job by Monday morning.
When Valerie and Richard had handed over the results of their investigation to the FBI they'd expected that to be the end of their involvement but Senator McAndrews had been so impressed with the work they'd done so far, admittedly a lot of it had been John's, that she had pulled some strings to ensure that they stayed a part of the ongoing investigation. The agents who had been put in charge had been less than impressed with the arrangement, which in turn had put Detective Paul in a bad mood, but Valerie had been determined to prove that they could still be a valid part of the team.
They were stood out in the hallway at the door to Chief Thorne's penthouse apartment with FBI agents Sicarro and Wojeck and a team of MXs. Sicarro was the woman in charge of the investigation and had barely said two words to the detectives since they'd met a couple of days previously. Wojeck on the other hand was one of the few that treated them with any kind of respect, although Valerie believed this had more to do with him having a bit of a crush on her. He offered her a grin now, which only made Paul bristle beside her, as Sicarro knocked at the door.
The knock was loud and authoritative, but was met with silence. "I wouldn't open the door to that either." Paul whispered in Valerie's ear. Valerie rolled her eyes, it was the third comment that Paul had made about Sicarro's looks that morning. She knew he was bitter about the disdain they'd been treated with but she really wished he'd lay off the digs at her physical appearance.
It took a second loud knock and Sicarro was just in the process of waving an MX forward to override the door lock, when it was opened by a woman in a man's dressing gown and some serious bed head. The woman was a chrome, naturally beautiful with perfectly symmetrical features but she looked like she'd had a long night, there was the faintest smell of alcohol on her breath and she'd forgotten to take her make up off leaving dark smudges under her eyes. It was six am on a Saturday after all.
"Mrs Thorne? Is your husband in?" Sicarro asked, subtly placing her foot over the hearth so that she couldn't slam the door shut on them.
"Erm," the woman looked sheepish. "Mrs Thorne is away on business. But Charlie is in. He's asleep, can I ask what this is about?"
"My name is Special Agent Sicarro, this is Agent Wojeck and Detectives Stahl and Paul. We need to speak with him urgently." Sicarro strode in and the woman stepped aside, too taken aback by the audacity to protest.
The apartment was beautiful, as you'd expect for its high end price tag. They stepped into a huge airy living space with floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the bay. Valerie had expected somewhere nice, after all the Chief of Police made a decent salary, but when she'd started looking into his finances further she'd found he also owned a beachfront property in the Caribbean and an apartment in Rome on the Piazza Navona. She was hoping that evidence of financial ties to InSyndicate would be the proof they needed to back their claim of involvement.
The woman, presumably Thorne's mistress pointed them to a door and Sicarro strode in without a further word. Valerie watched from the doorway as the older woman tapped the shoulder of the naked man in the bed. Chief Thorne grumbled and rolled over, but his eyes widened and he sat bolt upright as he realised what was happening.
"Chief Thorne, my name is Special Agent Sicarro, I have a warrant to search your premises for any links to your involvement with the terrorist group known as InSyndicate." She handed over a copy of the warrant.
He glanced at the sheet, "This is nonsense!" He protested, his face turning red with rage.
"If it's nonsense then you should have nothing to be worried about. Isn't that what you tell those that protest your stop-and-frisk measures?" She said wryly. "Please feel free to get dressed but then you and your friend should sit here and allow my team to do their work."
Valerie stepped away and went to look for the man's study. It was situated in a mezzanine above the living space but with a smart-glass surround that could be made opaque and sound proof when required. She settled herself at the large oak desk and brought up the computer screen.
She was sat at the computer a while, methodically going through all his saved files and restoring deleted ones, when Paul appeared at her shoulder.
"Hey," he said quietly. "Any luck?"
She shook her head. "Nothing so far, although his financial records need to be checked in more detail."
"Found this." He said, holding out his hand and revealing a small data storage device in a gloved hand.
"Excellent!" Valerie smiled. "Where'd you find it?"
"Wrapped in a condom and hidden in the toilet cistern. Someone has been watching too many old movies."
Valerie tapped the data stick to the screen and it lit up blue. Suddenly she was looking through a list of encrypted files. "This has got to be it!" she breathed, using a data chip of her own to run a decryption software.
Paul grinned, "Who says the FBI are better than us?" He clapped her on the back in celebration. When the software worked and suddenly all the files converted to English, he laughed out loud.
"What do you have?" Agent Wojeck asked appearing by them.
"Richard found this data stick." Valerie explained. "It appears to be transcripts and voice recordings of various meetings." She picked one at random.
The sound quality was a little poor, the was background noise like it has been recorded outside with concealed equipment.
"You think we can get him on board?" A deep voice said.
"Who is that?" Paul muttered.
"I approached him a while back, but he still believed he could salvage his reputation."
"I don't know either of them, but we can send them to our tech guys for identification." The FBI agent said.
The first man laughed. "The DRNs have been the worst disaster any company has suffered for decades. It's ridiculous."
"I know. But he really believes in these Synthetic Souls. He's got another one he's designing. A female bot, he's hoping the extra firepower will be something that appeals to the Department of Defence."
"You think it will?"
"Not when we're finished with it. We're going to use these synthetic souls against him. I have a man in his design team who thinks if we flood the bot with a carefully planned series of memories then we can push it into a violent reaction."
"You're brainwashing a bot?"
"It's quite ingenious. This guy thinks the DRNs were never actually flawed, they were built with feelings but were treated as though those feelings weren't real. When they were subjected to trauma they struggled to process it like any human would, but where humans could rely on each other for sympathy and support, the DRNs were denied that. What we would see as a mental breakdown in humans, we saw as a malfunction in them. So, he took that concept and use old CIA techniques to break her down so that we can turn her. And then use her to turn Vaughn. Trust me, when he's failed again, and he's feeling responsible for the destruction that his XRN is going to cause, he'll be vulnerable enough that manipulating him will be easy."
The clip ended and the three of them paused, taking in what they'd just heard.
"I've got a good feeling about this. But we need one with Throne's voice on it to really pin him down."
"If I were using these for blackmail, I would not have my own voice on one." Paul pointed out, he picked another one at random and clicked in it.
"Our friends in Europe have got to up their game." Said the same voice as the previous clip. "The riots in Paris are putting pressure on the President there, but they could still be swayed by Germany. And the Italian Prime Minister is going to be a problem, he's too outspoken and has too great a following."
A date caught Valerie's eye and she clicked on it without even waiting for the previous one to finish.
"The raid is scheduled for oh-six-hundred," a female voice could be heard to say. "He'll have a team of twelve including himself, plus however many MXs he can borrow from the other taskforces."
"That's okay," a male voice, not Thorne's said. "We'll be ready for them. Good job Emily."
"Are you sure you want to do this?" The woman seemed a little uncertain. "He's been useful, I could…"
"And he has outlived his usefulness." Another voice, this one was Chief Thorne, "He's getting too close, he's got the same bloody-mindedness as his father, he's becoming a liability. Are you telling me that your affection for the man is making you a liability too?"
"No." The woman said hurriedly, "No, I'll be there."
The recording ended.
"That son of a bitch." Paul snarled.
"They're talking about your friend, right?" Wojeck asked. "I read up on the casefile last night. His injuries sounded horrific."
"A lot of people had injuries a lot more horrific than his." Paul said coldly.
Wojeck nodded, "Of course, I'm sorry. But we've got enough to take him in. Do you want to do the honours?"
"This was your work." Richard told Valerie, offering her the arrest.
Valerie nodded but put her hand on his shoulder. "They were your friends."
Richard took off striding down to the bedroom where Thorne was being guarded by the MXs and Agent Siccaro. Valerie pulled an evidence bag from her pocket and sealed the data stick inside before following him down. She got to the bedroom and leaned a shoulder on the door frame, watching Richard Paul place handcuffs on their boss.
"We've found the data stick." He explained, "We have voice recordings implicating you in terrorist activities and conspiracy to commit murder. You have the right to remain silent, anything you do say can and will be used against you in a court of law…"
As Paul continued to read Chief Thorne his rights, Valerie studied the man's face. It was a mix of anger and defeat. While she'd been checking the computer, he'd been allowed to get dressed but still looked a little pathetic, a far cry from the stern and confident man who had shaken Valerie's hand at her police academy graduation. His mistress was still in her dressing gown and was sat in a chair by the window with her arms folded and was glaring daggers at the Chief. Valerie wondered what the FBI's play would be. She hated this man for what he'd done, but she could already tell that Sicarro was wondering if a deal could be made. The thought of him getting a reduced sentence in exchange for information upset her, she knew it would upset John and Maldonado too.
Paul made him stand and proceeded to lead him out, Valerie stepped away from the door frame but as he got closer her she couldn't help herself. "Why?" She asked.
Thorne stopped and stared at her a moment. "Because when InSyndicate have their way and this government collapses into the ruins of this society it has created, I want to be one of the few still standing."
"Bit melodramatic don't you think?" Paul laughed.
"Technology is advancing at a rate faster than we can cope with. This city? It's an example of everything that's wrong, the rich live in their little genetically perfected bubbles while the slums and homeless shelters are overrun and crime figures soar. And their answer to it all? Build more tech, make it impossible to live a life that is not some way controlled by it. And we tried to enforce these ideals on others and look what happened? Global war breaks out, we lash out at our neighbours for them trying to call us on our BS with devastating consequences and then put up a goddamn wall and pretend it didn't happen. But the more attacks that happen, the more the people will see the dangers of these new bombs, programmable bullets, fucking robots…"
Valerie looked at him with disbelief, "Do you know the irony of all this? That detective you set up, John Kennex? He would have agreed with you. He wouldn't have killed people to prove it though." She watched Paul fight to refrain from punching him as he lead him out of the door.
Daylight was just starting to filter through the trees. John wasn't sure he'd slept at all, he was frozen, the ground was hard and his body hurt in too many places to count. He must have done though because as he opened his eyes he met the sympathetic gaze of Sandra, staring out at him from the faux fur-lined hood of her parka, and he knew she'd caught him in the throes of another nightmare. He'd been having them so long now, sometimes he woke gasping in a cold sweat, other times he didn't remember them, the only evidence usually the heart-rate log on his smart bed, or out here, the all-seeing gaze of his colleagues. At least Sandra knew better than to ask, John doubted that Dorian would have the same restraint.
John rolled onto his back, away from his captain the smouldering embers of the previous evening's fire, and looked for his partner, the android was on his way back through the trees, carrying a plastic bottle full of water. They'd found it in the car and it was one of the few possessions they had with them since they'd failed to get the car going again two days previously.
"Good morning." Dorian greeted, handing Sandra the bottle of water first.
"Morning," she replied, tugging the hood down to brush her tangled hair out of her face before taking a sip and then holding the bottle out to John, who ignored it. She looked exhausted and her hair was a mess, John doubted she'd slept much either.
"You have to drink John." Dorian urged, but John just lay there on his back, freezing hands fisted into his pockets. "Come on, John. I know you're tired, but you're already low on fluids, you need to drink."
It was the upset quiver in the android's voice that made him sit up and take the bottle eventually, feeling the world spin from pain and bloodloss as he did. Dorian had been sounding like he was on the verge of a mental break since the previous evening, John knew it was a sure sign that he was low on charge, but none of them had thus far acknowledged the problem.
"How long you got?" John asked, his throat dry, voice gravelly.
Dorian shrugged. "I'm at twenty two per cent." He admitted. "So, possibly until mid-afternoon." He said it with such finality that John found himself getting slightly annoyed at the melodramatic tone.
He nodded his acceptance of the time frame though, "Okay, we need to do something about that."
"There's not a lot you can do John. There won't be anything out here I can use to charge with."
"If you think we're just leaving you here then your low charge is screwing with you more than I thought. What's up ahead? Have we got a town, a farm, anything coming up?"
"There's a small town in about seven miles, but it's off a track from our main route, otherwise there'll be nothing for a few days."
John nodded, "It'll be worth the detour." He hauled himself to his foot and grabbed the tree branch that Dorian had made into a crutch for him. "Come on, otherwise we'll be dragging your ass through the mud to get there." And with an ungainly pain-filled gait, he started off slowly down the road.
"John you're a genius!" Dorian hugged the man who was sat on the front steps of an outdoor and hunting shop. He had with him everything he'd wanted and was busy working on his project while Dorian and Sandra looked for food. "But are you going to be able to manage it?"
John looked down at his work, it wasn't ideal, but he'd found a couple of dollys for moving boxes in the warehouse and had cannibalised the wheels off them, attaching them to a wooden door. From there he'd painstakingly made holes in the top of the door, with a chisel and a hunting knife to thread a length of rope through each corner which he'd clipped to a pair of climbing harnesses. Further bungee cords were standing by, ready to strap the android onto the crude wheeled sled once he couldn't move under his own power.
Sandra smiled at Dorian's enthusiasm. These mood swings were as amusing as they were disconcerting. "We'll manage Dorian, we're not leaving you behind."
The DRN grinned, "You're going to be my very own sled dogs. Mush, John! Mush!"
John rolled his eyes, but he was smiling too.
"There's a voice, that keeps on calling me, down the road, that's where I'll always be…" Dorian sang.
John frowned, "Is that the song from The Littlest Hobo?"
Sandra shrugged with a laugh.
They were interrupted by the sound of a sharp click, which they all identified immediately as a shotgun being cocked. They all froze and glanced around, although Dorian sang the next line of the song, "Every stop I make, I make a new friend…" under his breath and laced with irony.
"What do you want?" Sandra growled. A group of three haggard-looking people stepped out from behind the building.
"We want whatever you got." A skinny blonde woman with bad teeth snarled.
Dorian, in his low charge state, couldn't help himself, he started laughing hysterically.
"What's so funny?" She asked, the two men behind her shifted uncomfortably.
"We've got nothing." Sandra explained, "No food, no medical supplies, we're at a camping shop and I can't even find a sleeping bag. It's been cleaned out."
"You've got some nice-looking coats." The woman pointed out, waving her gun at Sandra and John.
Dorian stopped laughing and became deadly serious, his face sterner than John had ever seen it. "I've just remembered something else we have," he said, pulling a handgun from where he'd concealed it in his waistband, "we've got bullets, and I've got armour plating," he tugged at the neck of his shirt to reveal his collarbone where a bullet had entered his body, the raw hole leaking purple fluid and exposing wiring and synthetic tissue, he let the blue lights flicker across his face for added effect, "you can try and take us on, but to get to them you'll have to go through me." He stepped in front of the two humans to shield them."
The three intruders backed away, "What the fuck are you dude?" One of the men muttered.
"Designed to be unstoppable." Dorian replied. "Now, lay your weapons on the floor and go, before I start demanding what else you've got."
One of the men threw down a hunting knife, the other just held his hands up in surrender. The woman with the shotgun was more reluctant, but after a thought, she dropped that too. "Come on," she said to the men, trying to salvage some semblance of authority. "Let's get outta here."
Dorian held his weapon raised until he was sure the small group of scavengers had gone, when he lowered it he staggered and nearly fell.
"Woah!" John said, holding his arms up to stop to steady the android. "You okay?"
Dorian shook his head, "My battery is spent. Used the last few percent to scan the area, made sure they're really gone."
"Okay, you need to sit down before you fall down. Or better yet, lie down." John gave a big sweeping gesture at his little engineering project. "Your chariot awaits Princess!"
Dorian frowned wearily and got onto the sled. "You'll be there to wake me up, right?" He asked, suddenly sounding concerned. His voice was small, reminding John of a worried child.
"Yeah buddy," John promised, strapping him on with the bungy cords and placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. "You've done good, now leave the rest to us."
Dorian nodded and then suddenly his body went stiff, his eyes blank. John patted his shoulder and then swept a hand over his face to close his eyes. John knew better, but still it was a difficult moment, he knew how much Dorian feared death, and in a way, this was what it felt like. It was a long road home and he was under no illusions as to how difficult it would be, but his determination to get Sandra and Dorian back would be the driving force behind it.
"You ready?" Sandra asked him, breaking into his thoughts. She was stood above him patiently, hands on her hips. When he nodded, she handed him the climbing harness and he shuffled into it before allowing her to give him a hand and haul him upright.
"When I was in recovery I read this book," he started, "it was about the first Antarctic explorers, you know, Scott and Shackleton? They used to man-haul their sleds for hundreds of miles, in freezing conditions, over mountains and glaciers. There was this one guy, he was just a regular sailor, but he went on three trips to the Antarctic and each time, he managed to save his teammates lives when they got into trouble. He must have been just as cold and tired as they were, but his strength and determination got him through, and brought the others home despite all the odds."
Sandra smiled, "Sounds like a good book." She slipped into her own harness and cinched the buckles. John readied his crutch and together they started to walk, it took some effort but with a big heave, the sled started to roll and once they got it going they found it easier to keep the momentum.
"So, seriously, there was nothing in any of the shops huh?" John asked after they'd settled into a slow rhythm.
Sandra shook her head. "I found some line and some fishing hooks, no rods. Your father used to fish, right? If we get to a lake you might be able to catch something."
John shook his head. "I can try but I only went fishing once, and the only thing I caught was hypothermia."
"Dammit. Then I don't know what else to say. There was nothing else, the place had been cleaned out years ago."
John readjusted his grip on his crutch, "We'll manage."
"What do we do with them now?" Sandra asked, staring down forlornly at the two scrawny rabbits that were sat between them.
John pulled out the hunting knife and hovered it over one of the little bodies, hesitating. He took a deep breath and shoved the knife in, slitting its body down the middle with a grimace.
"Eurgh!" Sandra shirked away. "I have no idea how people used to do this for sport."
"I know, but I'm starving." John agreed, slicing the meat out of the carcass and handing the bloody lumps of flesh to Sandra. She picked it up between her fingers, with distaste, carefully threading the pieces of meat onto a sharpened stick. John couldn't even remember the last time he'd eaten anything, let alone a proper meal. The jeans he was wearing had been borrowed anyway, but he was having an even harder time stopping them from falling down now, after his captivity he'd moved in a notch on his belt, and that morning he'd had to make a new hole with his knife. He hadn't mentioned his weight-loss to Sandra, it was easy to hide in their big coats, but he guessed that she would have lost some too. That worried him, the petite woman didn't have much to lose in the first place, and they were still a long way from home.
He finished scraping out the last pieces of meat, disappointed that the bullet that had been used to kill it had destroyed a large portion of it. He passed the last of the meat to Sandra and started on the next one. Sandra stoked the fire she'd built and settled their first rabbit kebab over the flame.
"You know, I think I might go vegetarian when we get back." She commented.
"Hell no!" John countered. "I'm dying for a steak. What's the first meal you're going to eat when you get back?"
"My mom's lasagne."
"Yeah," the meat was starting to cook and it was making John's mouth water. "Forget the steak, I want your mom's lasagne! I'm guessing the vegetarianism is going to start after that then?" he teased. He finished field-dressing the second rabbit and the meat was stuck on another stick to cook.
The pair of them sat close to the fire and basked in its warmth. John wiped his bloody hands on his already filthy jeans and held his hands up to the heat. The wind had picked up over the last few days and his hands felt frozen, his fingers had gone white where the blood had stopped flowing to them. Sandra's hands had been faring a bit better as she'd been able to keep them snug in her pockets, but he'd needed his to work on his crutch. He hated that crutch with a passion. It had given him blisters on his hands and under his arm where his weight rested, it sent him off balance and his back hurt from the awkward twist he had to perform to use it. He needed two really, but with the bullet wound in his other shoulder, he hadn't been able to put any weight on that arm. The harness chaffed too for that matter, they'd been caught in a rainstorm a few days ago, soaked through and it was so cold that they hadn't yet dried out. Things were pretty miserable but as they tucked into their scrawny bits of rabbit, John couldn't help but let out a groan of pleasure. They ate without talking, each one just enjoying satisfying their hunger.
"How far do you think we've got to go?" John said eventually.
"With the sled, we're only managing about fifteen miles a day. If we carry on at that pace, another ten or eleven days, but I think we're slowing down a bit. Could be longer."
"We'll just have to walk for longer." John said, rubbing at his aching calf absentmindedly.
Sandra shook her head, looking totally defeated. She looked as though she was about to argue it but in the end just said, "Yeah."
It happened in slow motion, but he was still unable to do anything about it. The end of his crutch skidded, he put too much of his weight on it and suddenly he was toppling forward and unable to stop himself, he held out his good arm to break his fall but suddenly he was face first on the cracked tarmac in the pouring rain, the sled continuing to roll forward until it came to a halt slamming into the stump of his thigh.
"John!" He heard Sandra call as she fell to her knees beside him, but he hurt too much to respond.
He rolled over painfully until he was laying on his back. "Fuck!" He whispered, staring up at the sky. The icy rain fell heavily on his face, masking any tears of exhaustion and agony that may or may not have also been present.
"God, are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. Give me a minute." He replied through gritted teeth. It wasn't the first time he'd fallen, but it was happening with more frequency now. He grabbed his hated crutch and struggled upright. Sandra hovered over him, ready to catch him if he fell. He gave her a look that was supposed to be reassuring. He took a few more steps but as the sled started to roll again it changed his balance and he was just too tired to stay upright. This time though, Sandra was there to grab him. She guided him down to sit on the corner of the sled, too tired to keep him upright by herself.
"Okay, you're done for the day." She said wearily.
John shook his head. "There's a few hours of daylight left."
"Captain's orders, we're camping here." She said, slipping out of her harness and trudging off into the forest by the side of the road, she was gone for long enough for John to start to worry. He was about to go after her when she came back, storming through the trees, looking furious.
"Hey, you okay?" John asked, standing up as she came back over to him.
"No. I can't find a goddamn thing to build a shelter." She huffed, and when she looked up at him she burst into tears.
"Hey, hey." John said soothingly, grabbing her and wrapping her in his arms. "We'll be fine."
"I'm sorry." She mumbled into his chest, her head only reaching that high.
"Don't be sorry, we'll manage." He guided her over to the ditch at the side of the road, pulling Dorian with them. Once there he tugged Dorian behind a bush and then slipped down so that he was sat in the muddy ditch, his back resting against the bank. He held out his arm as an invite and she got in and joined him, he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. "We've come so far, we'll get there." He promised.
Sandra sighed and rested her head on his shoulder, wiping the tears away with her hand. "I'm alright, really." She sounded like she was trying to convince herself as much as him. "I'm just tired, and sore, and worried about you."
"Me? I'm fine."
"You a terrible liar John Kennex."
He tucked her in closer to him and tugged her hood forward so it better protected her face from the rain. "Get some sleep," He told her. "Things will be better in the morning."
"We're here!" She said excitedly. All her tiredness seemed to dissipate and she would have broken into a run if she hadn't been strapped to the sled. John smiled at her change in mood, she'd been talking about this place for days and now that they were actually there, her enthusiasm was infectious. The town was a desolate suburban hell, the kind that John hated even when it wasn't in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. If all looked the same to him but at least Sandra had seemed about to tell the difference between the houses. She approached the garage of a house that looked like it had stood the test of time better than most, and fished into the front pocket Dorian's jeans, drawing out a key. She unlocked the padlock and with a flourish opened the shutters.
John's jaw dropped at the sight of all the food lining the shelves and he almost lost his balance in shock. "Unbelievable." He muttered, stepping inside and scanning the labels on all the tins.
"We packed up a load of it to take with us but our car got stolen." Sandra explained, going over to the back of the room and finding a gas stove. "What do you want first? Coffee or food?"
"Both? All of it?"
Sandra scanned the shelves. "You think these tins of Mac 'n Cheese are still good?"
John grinned, "I don't think I care." He made sure Dorian was under the shelter and then stepped out of his harness. "Is that an old CB radio?" He made his way over to the ancient device and flicked the switch on, twirling the dial to listen for air traffic. Unfortunately, they were rarely used anymore and he couldn't pick up anything.
"No one uses them anymore." Sandra said, sat by the stove, stirring a tin of pasta with a fork as it heated on the small gas burner. "There's no one listening."
"When I did that attachment to Counter Terrorism they had their MXs scanning all radio frequencies to try to pick up on chatter. InSyndicate and a few others would use CB to relay messages until they realised we were listening in."
"You think they're still checking the channels?"
"New groups pop up all the time, it'd be silly not to. We just have to make sure we're heard."
John picked up the microphone and pressed the talk button. "This is Detective John Kennex and Captain Sandra Maldonado of the twelfth precinct, Detroit. Tell Detective Valerie Stahl we are following the route and heading home." He changed the dial incrementally and repeated the phrase. "This is Detective Kennex and Captain Maldonado of the twelfth precinct, Detroit. Tell Detective Valerie Stahl we are following the route and headed home." He changed the dial again and repeated the phrase.
They ended up eating their meal in the garage while John kept at the radio, using the same message over and over on each little turn of the dial. He didn't even notice that Sandra had left until she came back out of the side door that lead into the house. She'd stripped out of her wet clothes and had a blanket wrapped tightly around her. John looked down at her bare feet and noticed they were a mess of blood and blisters. They looked really painful, but didn't comment, his own body was much the same in places.
"Come in." She pleaded. "We can try again tomorrow." She took his hand and lead him inside.
She'd set up camp in the living room where she'd lit a fire in the hearth and had dragged an old double mattress and pile of blankets down in front of it. Her wet clothes were hanging on chairs to dry out in the warm room.
"Strip and I'll hang your wet clothes up." Sandra offered.
"Really?" John raised a cheeky eyebrow, "Dinner and an invite to your bed? I'm not normally that kind of guy."
Sandra rolled her eyes. "You can keep your boxers on. Anyway, don't flatter yourself, you stink."
"You hardly smelling of roses either." He countered. But he paused, not wanting to strip off in front of his captain in his current state.
Sandra sensed his discomfort and turned away. John sat down on the edge of the mattress and pulled his coat off. It was difficult to peel out of his wet top as it was stuck to his skin and he let out a hiss as he tried to manoeuvre his wounded shoulder. Sandra reacted to the noise and turned around and let out a gasp. John froze, knowing this was the first time she'd seen the full extent of his wounds.
"Let me help." She offered, easing his shirt from him before reaching down to unlace his muddy sneaker. He shuffled awkwardly out of his jeans. The bandage around his raw stump had come a bit unravelled and was discoloured with blood and pus. He felt exposed and pulled a blanket around his battered body before trying to fix the tattered dressing.
"There was a huge first aid kit when we got here, but we took it with us. We should have left something behind I'm sorry."
"Few more days won't make a difference now." He pointed out, laying down on his good shoulder, facing the fire and tucking his legs up to his body.
He was asleep in seconds and dreaming of Anna. When he awoke, he reached out his hand across the mattress and found it empty. At first, he was looking for his ex-girlfriend but by the time he realised the bed was empty, he was aware enough to know it should have been Sandra beside him. Concerned by her absence, he hauled himself upright and went to go look for her. He didn't have to look far, finding her in the garage. She was at the CB radio, repeating the same phrase over and over, picking up from where John had left off.
She noticed him there and turned to him. "How do we know they've heard us?"
John shrugged, leaning his shoulder against the frame. "We won't. We have to have faith."
"Faith in an MX, John Kennex, you're a changed man."
"Yeah well," he shrugged, "you need to get some sleep."
"Soon." She promised.
John nodded and went back to bed, listening as Sandra went back to her task. "This is Captain Maldonado of the twelfth precinct, Detroit. Tell Detective Valerie Stahl we are following the route and heading home."
A good night's sleep had worked wonders and they'd set off with food in their stomachs and a renewed sense of determination, but a few hours in the harnesses and their aches and pains were making themselves known again. It was raining again, and so it hadn't been long before their clothes had been soaked through again. They'd not really spoken to each other all day, both lost in their thoughts of making it home. It got to about midday when Sandra caught John's attention. John looked up, he'd been concentrating on moving forward slowly and steadily and not really paying attention to anything else. He heard it once his attention had been drawn though, the sound of a heavy vehicle moving towards them.
He glanced around frantically, looking for cover, wondering how they were going to hide Dorian without getting the sled stuck in the mud.
"We can't." Sandra said, interrupting his thoughts. "What if it's them and they miss us?"
"What if it's not?" John asked, but he resisted the urge to hide, readying his stance and drawing his handgun.
The vehicle came into view, a large black 4x4, John squinted into the distance but he couldn't see through the heavy rain into the cab. He raised his gun, just in case, his heart pounding. But then the passenger window was lowered and a smiling face with long dark hair stuck her head out of the window and gave a shout. "John! Captain!"
"Val!" John was amazed, lowering his weapon. His knee felt weak with relief and he sank to the ground. The 4x4 pulled up and had barely come to a halt when Valerie leapt out and ran to them. She threw an arm round Sandra and then sank to her knees, bringing the Captain with her so that she could envelope John with her other arm.
"Oh my God! When we stopped hearing from you, we thought the worst had happened." She said.
Richard Paul got out of the driver's side of the vehicle and approached them. "What happened to Dorian?" He asked, looking at the android on the sled.
"He's fine, he's just out of charge." John said, "I knew you cared." He added teasingly. Sandra reached out and hugged him too.
Richard gave a wave to the 4x4 and a couple of MXs appeared, "Get him in the car." He ordered the MXs, who then unstrapped the DRN and picked him up as though he weighed little and took him back to the car.
Valerie wrapped her arm around John and helped him up, but now that he was safe, it was as though all the energy that had he'd used to get them this far was gone and he collapsed against her. Richard rushed to his other side and slung John's arm across his shoulder.
"Come on John." Valerie smiled. "Let's get you home."
The book that John read during his recovery is called The Unsung Hero: Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer by Michael Smith. It's a good read, especially if you need a bit of motivation. Also, for those of you who don't remember the early 1980's, 'The Littlest Hobo' was a dog who wandered the world and had adventures. You can find the theme song on youtube.
One Month Later
John shuffled nervously on his feet, hands stuffed in his pockets as he watched the darkening sky, light flakes of snow had started to fall and he'd pulled up the collar of his dark jacket to protect against the chill. She was late. John doubted she'd even turn up at all, but he'd said he'd be there so he was. He's already seen a group of scavengers circling round, no doubt trying to work out how he'd made it over the wall, and why he would want to. Want was probably a strong word, actually he'd been a bundle of nerves going back down into those tunnels, turned every corner with the anticipation that someone was going to ambush him. When he'd finally made it out, through an old manhole cover into the street, he'd breathed a sigh of relief.
In the years before the war, the cities on both sides had expanded so much that they'd basically become one. In an increasingly inclusive and global community, it hadn't much mattered that the country boarder had run through the middle, they were all neighbours, they were all one city, at least until politics and anger had caused irrevocable damage and they'd found themselves on opposite sides of a war. As a kid, John had come over to this part of town plenty of times, and although it was now a crumbling ghost town, populated only by desperate wanderers and sinister black market salespeople, he still knew it like the back of his hand. Which is why, for old times sake, he'd asked to meet outside the old pizza joint his dad used to take him to.
There had been a fire at one point, half the block was a blackened concrete carcass, but Tony's was still there, although the window had been smashed in and the place ransacked. As he stood and waited, a rat stuck his head out of the door and stared at him.
His attention was drawn from the rat by a hunched and shuffling man with wide looking eyes and a shaking in his hands that he seemed to be struggling to control. "Hey man, you looking for somethin'?" The man asked. "I got all kinds 'a somethin', you wanna party, you wanna chill?"
John's hand fisted round the badge in his pocket but remembered just before pulling it out that he had no jurisdiction on this side of the wall so he just shrugged nonchalantly instead, "Nah buddy, I'm just waiting for a friend."
"Ah," the man said, looking dejected. "Hey, you got anything to eat?"
John pulled an energy bar out of his pocket and offered it to the man, who snatched it out of his hand and shuffled off without a thank you or a second glace.
As John was watching him go, he heard the sound of an engine and then a battered blue pick up rolled around the corner. He smiled when he saw who was in the passenger seat and his smile widened even further when he saw the driver.
"Hey John." Carrie greeted, climbing out of the vehicle. "You're looking good."
John glanced down at himself, he knew he had a way to go on his recovery, he still had pain in his shoulder and right thigh, and he was still on the skinny side of healthy but he was slowly starting to look and feel like himself. "Yeah, two legs and everything." He smiled, "You're looking good yourself." Although the woman hadn't physically changed much at all, her face was less drawn and her eyes were brighter, like she'd finally managed a good nights sleep. "Has that got anything to do with your new driver?"
The driver in question got out of the car with a huge grin on his face, ignoring the reserved awkwardness between John and Carrie he strode forward and gave the detective a quick but firm hug. "Hey man, it's good to see you."
"Hey,.. Dorian?" John replied with hesitation.
"No man, my name is Danny. When we were woken up with Dorian's memories we all felt like we were Dorian, but that only got weird… and confusing. So we all found our own names instead. To be honest, it's still a little confusing." He laughed.
John laughed with him, and even Carrie cracked a smile.
"Where's Sophie?" John asked.
"Back home, she felt if she came she might not be able to resist putting a bullet in you. Without InSyndicate funding, we are really struggling, even with the DRNs helping. People are dying John."
"You know, I can get you through. You and your sister can come home with me, you can claim asylum, I'll help in whatever way I can."
She shook her head sadly, snow dampened ringlets of hair falling into her face. "We can't. We talked about it and… our job is to help people. We have a purpose over here, it's tough but we both feel its what we were meant to do."
John nodded sadly. "I thought you might say that. I've spoken to Will." He explained, thinking back to the conversation a few nights previously when he'd accosted the man in the street outside his house. "He's agreed to keep supplying you the drugs you need."
"He said as much when he passed the message that you wanted to meet, but I don't understand why he's changed his mind, we hadn't heard from him since you left."
"I'm sure Danny has told you who InSyndicate really are, Will was part of the ambush who killed my team and destroyed my leg. If he wants to keep his name out of my reports and his ass out of prison then he'll find a way to get you the drugs you need."
Carrie nodded at the gravity of the situation that John had put himself in, she seemed choked up with emotion.
"I've gotta get back, before people realise I'm missing. You and your sister take care of yourselves, and if you need anything then I'm sure Danny here knows how to find me."
Carrie nodded and pulled him into a hug. "Thank you, John." She whispered. When she pulled away she wiped the tears from her eyes and went back to the pickup. Danny went too and got in the driver's seat.
As they were about to pull away John called out, "Hey Danny, what are the other DRNs doing?"
"Well," he grinned, "there are a few at the shelter with me, more are helping out at the hospital, and the others… you know how Dorian born to be a cop? They're clearing up the gang violence, taking out the last InSyndicate strongholds. Dorian would be proud."
John smiled. "Yeah he would." He agreed.
The DRN started the engine and was about to pull away when John called out again. "Hey Danny, any of you ever seen Anna?"
The android gave him a look that he'd seen on Dorian's face too many times. "No man." He said sadly. And with that he drove away.
John watched the little blue pickup until it disappeared between the ruins before turning around and heading for home.
It took him a while to get back, but eventually he found himself climbing over the wall of the breakers yard, back to safety. What he didn't expect was to see Dorian leaning casually against his car, waiting patiently.
"John." The DRN said, in a voice that made John feel like he was about to be told off by his teacher. "You went to see Carrie, didn't you?" He guessed.
"I…" John realised protesting his innocence would be useless. "When we stopped InSyndicate we shut down the supply line. I needed to make that right."
"So, you're blackmailing Will Deacon? That's why you left him out of your reports?"
"Look, I didn't want to tell you because its against the law. I didn't want to get you or anyone else into trouble. But I have to do it, what's been done to those people isn't right and…"
Dorian held his hands up to stop him, "Hey man, I get it. Your testimony, I think will go a long way, there are civil rights groups that are championing your cause and maybe one day we'll be able to get them the proper, legal help they need. But in the mean time I understand why you're doing what you're doing. It's brave John, you could go to prison for it."
John winced at the truthfulness of that statement. "I know."
"So if you need any help I'm here for you man." Dorian reached in for a hug. John embraced the android back, still a little bit amazed at what he and Sandra had risked and endured to get him back.
"Hey," he said pulling out of the hug with a smile on his face, "you'll never guess what the other DRNs are doing!"
So that's it, we've come to the end. Thank you to everyone whose read this. I'd love to know what you thought of it.