Today, installment 6 of Hostages, where Officer Kujima has to deal with the consequences of her failure.
The previous installments are:
“What possessed you to try a stunt like that?” Shin shouts at me as I emerge from the stairwell into the lobby.
“I was trying to save the hostages,” I say. “…Sir.”
“But you endangered them instead,” he replies.
“Worse then shooting Winters?” I ask. “I saw a chance and I took it.”
“I read your file Kujima,” Shin snaps. “I should never have let you go up there. Get out of here so the adults can deal with this mess.”
I cannot suppress my cheeks growing hot. I clench my fists but bow to Shin and turn to leave. Then I remember something.
“Wait,” I say. “At the end, he said… ‘When I talk to earth’ or something.”
“Grandstanding,” Shin says, waving his hand dismissively.
I shake my head. “No, I’m certain it’s-”
Shin moves in close, until his stubbled face is close to mine. “Officer Kujima, this is not some round-table discussion. Get out of here before I decide to personally end your career in the Authority.”
I look down at the patterns of the marble floor. I manage to squeeze a ‘yes, sir’ out before I turn and walk away. Anger and shame fill me in equal measure. I’d been first on the scene. I was the one to see that Winters had put a sleeve in his place as a decoy. I was the one he’d wanted to talk to. I hear Yori and Shin arguing about what should be done. I should have been a part of that. Me.
I’ve never had anything approaching professional pride before. Getting this job was a way to make a living. I cheated to get in, and I’ve been trying to swim with the current since. Now, for the first time, I feel like I actually want to be a cop.
I take a deep breath. Winters is planning something, and I’m certain that there’s not a lot of time left to stop him.
Shin’s mess now, I think.
I make my way down the stairs outside the building. The cordon is still there, with my fellow officers. Beyond them I see the suburbs of the station curve up into the sky.
I hear somebody behind me. It’s Lieutenant Yori, his head level with mine now that he’s on the stairs above me.
“We have to talk,” he says as he falls in next to me.
“I’m dismissed,” I tell him while I continue onto the parking lot, heading for my flyer.
He shows me a razor grin. “That won’t make you back off, will it?”
I sigh. “I think it will.”
“Shin used to be like you,” he said. “When he started this unit.”
“Like me?” I asked.
He nodded, yellow eye tracking me. “Filled with righteous fire.”
Me? I think. I open my mouth to deny it, but instead find myself asking, “What changed?”
“This isn’t the first resistance attack, or even the tenth,” he says.
Yori takes it as encouragement to continue. “I checked the Xiu computer systems. They’re still active, running off emergency power. I can see somebody is running a tunnel through it. Shin dismissed it, but…”
“You think it’s Winters,” I say. “He’s hacking into the system.”
“With their CEO physically in his custody, he can access certain off-world systems through Xiu’s network. No high clearance systems, they have two-factor authentication or dual-person validation. However, a line into the central Earth communication system… He’s doing it. Xiu owns that planet.”
I gasp. “He’s just stalling so he can open a connection to Earth and rouse his people.”
Yori nods. “There could be riots. Then sterilization.”
“All those innocents…” I say. “How much time do we have?”
“The connection needs to be routed across apertures in several systems. The system reports a connection will be up in…” He looks at his HUD, “twenty-eight minutes. The only people with the authorization to stop this are in that meeting room. With all the redundancies and wireless, we can’t cut his connection physically. Not in less than thirty minutes. I have one idea, though,” he says and nods towards a large truck on the parking lot.
I hesitate. I could just walk away. It’s not my problem. I don’t like executives, on general principle. My job is waiting, mediocre as I am at it, even though I cheated to get it. Or, I could follow Yori and… Heroes get killed. Sticking out my neck could get it cut off. I mean to walk away.
I still follow Yori to the truck.
It’s a big eighteen-wheeler, black, with a large Aperture Authority logo stamped on its side. It hovers just above the pavement. Yori opens the back loading door and leads me up a ladder into it. We enter a storage area. It looks like any other truck. The imaging system they used earlier would have come from here. Yori goes to a hatch deeper inside the truck. He puts his hand on a touch-lock and the hatch irises open. He steps through, grinning at me with his razor teeth and beckoning me forward with his small arms. I step in after him.
Stark fluorescent light reveals a lab which is crammed with high-tech equipment. Everything is gleaming, blinking, and whirring. I know what some of these machines are, but not many. The way the space is used makes it seem bigger than it really is, and if I didn’t know it, I would never have guessed it was the inside of a truck.
“You do have the best toys,” I breathe.
Yori barks a laugh. He walks to a human male sleeve standing in the center of the machine forest. The man looks up from a screen and frowns at me. There’s a well-built sleeve beneath the white lab coat he wears. Given the unkempt state of his hair and clothes, I doubt he keeps it in shape himself. He might have a trainer for that. You leave your sleeve with them for a few hours three times a week, and they make it buff and healthy.
“Hello,” he says. “I’m doctor Oshiro.”
I bow. “Officer Sora Kujima.”
“Pleased to meet you,” he inclines his head, but is clearly thinking of other things. He turns away from me. “Time is short. I’ve already warmed her up.”
“What?” I ask, but he doesn’t respond. I follow him and Yori to a large metal cradle in the corner. The cradle is large enough to hold a human sleeve, or a Thero one for that matter. The inside is lined with red foam. It looks comfortable enough, but the chandelier of metal tentacles and blinking electronics above it does not bode well. I don’t recognize a tenth of the sharp implements and electronic doohickeys at the ends of the shining appendages.
“What does this do?” I ask.
The Doctor turns to Yori, “She doesn’t know?”
“Well alright.” He turns back to me. “When this technology was first developed-”
Yori cuts in, “We call it a ‘grafter’. It can graft bio-mechanical machinery into a sleeve, or remove it. This can rewire everything from your HUD to your interface in minutes. We want to use it to put a sub-dermal Electro-Magnetic-Pulse mesh in your body.”
I stare at the machine. The doctor is still frowning at Yori.
“An EMP?” I ask. “Seriously?”
“Your sleeve will be damaged,” he says. “Maybe permanently. If you don’t want to do it…”
The question hangs in the air.
I take a deep breath. I raise my hands and look at them. My sleeve. Me. I’ve worn her for nearly a decade. She has years left in her. Good years. What is happening really hits home now.
I think of Cain Winters and what he is about to do. The death he will cause. Thousands of humans killed. The worst thing might be that he truly believes in what he’s doing. He really thinks his people are better off dead than future sleeves. Which means he won’t back down.
Somebody needs to stop the bloodshed. I would never have guessed before today that that somebody would be me.
“I’ll do it,” I say, then purse my lips. “But I have an idea of my own.”