Służyć i chronić

– Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus, kontrola drogowa. Proszę przygotować smartfona.
Zatrzymany rowerzysta patrzy na mnie z wyraźną irytacją, bez słowa odblokowuje telefon i podaje mi go. Przykładam jego urządzenie do mojego, spoglądam na dane wyświetlane na szybie hełmu i od razu widzę problem.
Policyjna aplikacja wyświetla mi dane osobowe kontrolowanego. Imię i nazwisko: Janusz Mariański, wiek: 34 lata, wyznanie: narodowy katolik, miejsce zatrudnienia: młodszy asystent posła na Sejm Polskiej Partii Narodowo-Katolickiej.
Z trybu profesjonalnego przechodzę w tryb najwyższej uprzejmości, natychmiast oddając mu jego smartfona. Teoretycznie mógłbym skontrolować zawartość, historię rozmów czy wiadomości, ale to gigantyczne ryzyko, bo jeszcze mógłbym coś znaleźć, więc wolę nie ryzykować. W Szczytnie każdy słyszał przy piwie historię policjanta, który zobaczył wybitnie niezgodną z katolicko-narodowymi wartościami korespondencję między posłem a jego asystentem, po czym następnego dnia losowa kontrola szafek znalazła w jego rzeczach osobistych Koran z jego odciskami palców i deportowano go z rodziną do jednej z islamskich prowincji Wielkiej Rosji w ciągu 48 godzin.
– Obywatelu, mamy ostrzeżenie pogodowe trzeciej klasy, za dwadzieścia pięć minut nikogo nie powinno być na ulicach. Może gdzieś podwieźć? – mówię, spoglądając w stronę radiowozu, ładującego się właśnie na miejscu parkingowym.
– Nie trzeba, zostało mi dziesięć minut jazdy do siedziby partii.
– W takim razie z Bogiem i bezpiecznej drogi. – mówię, najuprzejmiej jak tylko potrafię.
Cofam się i pokazuję, żeby ruszył dalej, po czym rozglądam się, czy nie ma jeszcze kogoś do skontrolowania. Służbowy smartfon zawieszony na moim ramieniu głośno piszczy charakterystycznym rytmem alarmu pogodowego, ale pancerny radiowóz za moimi plecami spokojnie wytrzymuje do czwartej klasy, a tornada powyżej czwórki trafiają się w Warszawie najwyżej raz do roku, więc się tym specjalnie nie przejmuję.
Widzę kolejnego rowerzystę zmierzającego w moim kierunku. Na widok policjanta i radiowozu panicznie się rozgląda a rower przez chwilę się chybocze, więc macham lizakiem i jednocześnie wzywam Tomka przez smartfona. Partner może się przydać.
Rowerzysta zwalnia i sięga lewą ręką do kieszeni. Odpinam zapięcie kabury paralizatora na prawym udzie i trzymam rękę w pogotowiu.
– Szczęść Boże, panie władzo, zaraz sztorm będzie, do domu się spieszę. – rzuca zdyszany rowerzysta w moją stronę.
Zerkam w stronę radiowozu i widzę, że Tomek już idzie w moją stronę, czuję się więc bezpieczniej i zdejmuję rękę z paralizatora.
– Niech będzie pochwalony, szybkie sprawdzenie dokumentów i może pan jechać. – odpowiadam.
– Ale rozładował mi się… – płaczliwie stwierdza zatrzymany, wyciągając z kieszeni charakterystyczną cegłę z socjalu.
Wzdycham ciężko, odpinam swojego smartfona z napierśnika i wybieram tryb kontroli pogłębionej, po czym wyciągam lewą rękę.
– Pan da ten telefon, szybko odpalę tryb dokumentów i pojedzie pan dalej.
Przykładam telefony do siebie. Urządzenie rowerzysty, standardowy państwowy socjal nie reaguje, ale rezerwowa bateria podtrzymuje mu system lokalizatora i umożliwia włączenie go w celu przekazania nagłych ostrzeżeń, pozwala też policyjnym smartfonom na pobranie dokumentów do kontroli. Szybko ściągam dane delikwenta. Jarosław Korczak, lat 47, bezrobotny, zamieszkały na Ursynowie. Rowerem nie dojedzie, nie ma szans.
Tomek staje obok mnie i nieruchomieje. Lustrzana kopułka nad biało-czerwonym, pancernym napierśnikiem nie pozwala ustalić, gdzie skierowane są teraz jego czujniki, ale wiem, że przygląda się uważnie obywatelowi Korczakowi na wszystkich możliwych długościach fal, w podczerwieni, świetle widzialnym i terahercach. Gdyby coś było nie tak, mój partner już by działał, ale teraz jedynie stoi i przypomina o potędze polskiego państwa.
Oczywiście, kto tylko się interesuje tematem wie, że wprawdzie biało-czerwony pancerz z wytłoczonym orłem jest produkowany w Polsce, przez zakłady produkcyjne w więzieniu w Barczewie, ale schowane za nim podzespoły są produkowane w Specjalnej Strefie Eksterytorialnej przez Daimler Robotics. Rząd może dumnie twierdzić, że wszystkie roboty policyjne i wojskowe produkujemy w kraju, ale Daimler każe sobie za nie i tak płacić w dewizach.
Więc oprogramowanie mamy, niestety, narodowe, bo po co wydawać dewizy na SI dla robotów, kiedy mogą pisać je absolwenci informatyki w ramach obowiązkowych dwóch lat stażu w służbach po zakończeniu studiów. Gdybym nie oglądał zachodnich spiraconych seriali policyjnych to bym nie wiedział, jak tępym partnerem jest Tomek, ale wiem, więc zawsze jest mi trochę smutno, kiedy stoi obok mnie, milcząc jak głaz.
– Obywatelu, za dwadzieścia-dwadzieścia pięć minut będzie tutaj tornado trzeciej klasy, musicie się schować. Do metra mogą nie wpuścić z rowerem, pewnie straszny tłok będzie, więc sugeruję do najbliższego kościoła. – wskazuję ręką na budynek, w którym właśnie powoli opuszczają się pancerne rolety na witraże.
– Zaryzykuję metro. Wikariusz też raczej z rowerem nie wpuści. – odpowiada Korczak, już trochę mniej zdyszany.
– No, to sugeruję się spieszyć. – oddaję mu telefon. – Z Bogiem i bezpiecznej drogi.

On being dead

I was, unfortunately, quite dead on the day my love killed himself to become immortal. It wasn’t my first time being dead, and the reason was depressingly identical to previous ones. Multiple GSWs to the chest. An occupational hazard for a cop in modern America.

Getting temporarily killed in the line of duty is fully comped, but the insurance payout is wholly inadequate to cover the loss of over a month of life spent in recovery. Granted, after they bring you back from cold sleep, replacing the superoxygenated cooling solution back with blood you get to wake up and access VR environments, but then you have a choice – hazy pink fog of painkillers, or being alert on pain dullers.

Although in this case my state of mind wouldn’t matter much, as I was still in cold sleep when Jonathan decided he had enough close encounters with death, even by proxy, to stand the thought of dying permanently, and absconded to Canada with most of our money, in order to get destructively scanned. The bastard.

Cycling for beginners

Two weeks after I’ve left the City for the wilderness of Central Poland my bike’s front suspension seized with a shudder. I was riding over the remains of an old tarmac road, and suddenly I felt it become rather bumpy, so I almost fell off trying to stop.

“I am sorry, Jake,” the bicycle spoke softly inside my head. “The right actuator burned out and I had to lock the left one. I was not designed to carry heavy loads, and if we keep riding on such disastrous surfaces the other actuator will burn out, too.”

“How soon?” I whispered.

“A week or two. And the front wheel hub is approaching its limits, too, we’re already three weeks past the second required maintenance overhaul. When the front wheel burns out, you lose one third the motive force and two thirds of the braking capability. I’m breaking down. You will have to find another means of transport.”

I knew I couldn’t walk with all the stuff I had in my panniers, backpack and the bag strapped to the handlebars, and yet in the wilderness I needed it desperately. All my life’s savings, as well as my parents’ apartment went into the stuff I now carried.

Some of it was so illegal I’d get my second strike and my third strike at the same time, which is why I met the guy who sold the stuff just outside of the administrative borders of the Warsaw enclave, fifty kilometres outside of the city proper.

There was no law enforcement outside the enclaves. That is why criminals like me could escape the all-seeing eyes of the City’s surveillance and compliance enforcement network. And that is also why I needed a weapon, to hunt for food and to protect myself against other people hiding in the wilderness. They wouldn’t be law-abiding citizens either.
The Commonwealth didn’t care what people did outside of the areas of City enclaves, as long as they didn’t violate any environmental laws. If they did, the first time skies cleared the killsats would find them, and invisible ultraviolet death would descend from orbit.
Still, small groups of hunters and gatherers could easily survive in the forests covering most of Europe, as long as they stayed away from the radioactive fields where the Russian Empire’s area denial swarms managed to get through the defences of the late European Union.

Unfortunately, I had a week or two to find a new bike, and that meant I had to turn towards the radioactive ruins of Poznań. More abandoned buildings meant a higher chance for finding something. Or meeting someone.

Two days later, in an abandoned village I’ve finally found a bicycle. It was weird. It was made completely of metal, and thus surprisingly heavy. Instead of modern wheels it had multiple metal wires leading from the hub to the rim. The pedals were connected to multiple spiky discs, with more of the same on the rear wheel, and there was a weird metal rope-like thingy leading from the pedals to the rear wheel. Chain, it was called, I thought, even though the word evoked images of medieval ages and slavery instead of bicycles. There were also some weird mechanical switches and cables running all over the frame, which I tried flicking, with no results whatsoever. And it was completely dumb. No cameras, no mind, no self-diagnostics. It was probably older than my late parents. Well, I would have to read up on maintenance of prehistoric bicycles, I decided, and set out to search the nearest building for some tools.

Which is when I found the body.

Minimum population

To this day, paleovirologists (all five or six of them) disagree whether the Superflu was a natural mutation or an engineered virus. It had a very nasty combination of a long onset and high virulence which meant that before medical services caught sight of it, cases were already popping up all over the globe. And it attacked the pulmonary system quite viciously. It wasn’t really a problem when you had good medical care – in an intensive care ward, healthy adults had ninety five percent survival ratios, only the weak, elderly and children had mortality rates approaching thirty percent. But the cost-optimized health services of pretty much all civilized nations didn’t have enough doctors, nurses and equipment for even one percent of the sick, and without oxygen and intravenous feeding, almost one in two adults died.

Still, looked for a moment it seemed possible that the economy of industrial nations could survive, barely, this incredible shrinking of the global population.

But Ivan Vladimirovitch Putin had a paranoiac streak a mile wide, and decided that the Superflu was an attack on the Russian Empire that got out of hand. And the European Union, full of militaristic vigour only a decade after the spectacular, completely one sided victory of its military robots against the Chinese Volunteer African Militia wouldn’t back down. After all, the proxy war with China proved that things wouldn’t escalate to nukes, and even if they would, the US and EU would have complete space superiority and laser-based defences would protect against nuclear missiles.

The ensuing Third World war proven everyone wrong. Space superiority kept most of US safe from submarine-launched missiles, but ground-based lasers couldn’t defend Europe’s cities from swarms of high-velocity, low-altitude drones with five to ten kiloton warheads, coming through the defences in a rolling wave of tactical nuclear explosions. The losses were appalling. And then India and Pakistan went at each other with their stockpiles of nukes, while China and Russia blasted away at each other from submarines. Most missiles were intercepted, but some weren’t.

Which is how the world found out that there is a minimum population requirement to maintaining an operating technological civilisation of law and order.

Ares watching

Putting a god under surveillance isn’t that difficult, if you have a good team. There’s just one catch – you have to use mundanes. Us supernaturals tend to concentrate on defending against other supernatural threats, using a few simple measures to throw off any mere human off our trail, which is why a well trained team of mundanes with appropriate knowledge and tools can easily keep a god under constant surveillance.

Which is why when Anthony Reese left his suite at the Regent Berlin hotel, I was five kilometres away, sitting in a dark-panelled van in front of a suite of radios and monitors, safely out of the reach of his warning spells, and all around him, twenty three of my people were waiting to see where would he go and whom would we meet. Twenty three, a lucky number.

They carried no amulets, they had no spells, and they carried no guns. Mundane weapons wouldn’t help them against the god of war, and they could get them in trouble with German authorities. What they had in plenty was mirrors, silver, salt, digital cameras and encrypted cell phones set in full duplex conference mode. That, and years and years of experience.

Jane Nguyen, the designated eyeball sitting in a car parked in front of the Regent was observing the entrance through the rear-view mirror. In addition to being good tradecraft, this was a good way to pierce most common veils and charms, the ones that could be thrown up with almost no effort by powerful supernaturals.

“The bunny has left the rabbit hole, southbound on Charlottenstrasse. I repeat, southbound on Charlottenstrasse. The bunny is wearing a beige suit and somehow still pulls it off.”
“This is Martin, I have the eyeball, I repeat, I have the eyeball.”

The main screen was showing a large map of Berlin, with the positions of all my people marked, and video feeds. Kathy and Janusz logged in as Bravo and Charlie with one press of a button on their GPS units, without having to talk and interrupt the eyeball, while Martin continued speaking.

“The bunny is now past the Konzerthaus, and moving at a fast clip. He seems to be in a hurry, and is not looking around. Wait, he is blurring, I repeat, he is blurring.”

I looked at the map. The nearest mobile observation van was located near the intersection with Leipziger Strasse, so I pressed their icon on the screen.

“Do you have the target?”
“Sure thing,” I heard Ursula say, “eyes on, I repeat, eyes on. The bunny is now shifting to a more Mediterranean aspect, a tall, olive-skinned man in a leather jacket and jeans.”

The eyes of people around Anthony would just refuse to focus on him while he was weaving a spell that said “disregard me”, but Ursula, in the rear of the observation van was watching him through high-powered binoculars with a silver-coated prism inside. The image of Ares was reflected multiple times off silver surfaces, stripping the glamour and enabling the watcher to view the shifting performed by the target.

Glamours and shapeshifting were the state of the art anti-surveillance measures of the supernatural world, and sure enough, they worked well against unaware watchers. Detection spells Ares had certainly woven around himself would notify him if he was followed by some vampire hopping about on the roofs, or other similar garishness, but my team had years of experience in the following of hard targets.

“This is eyeball, I still have the target, he didn’t stop walking. He is now past Kronnenstrasse, I repeat, past Kronnenstrasse, still southbound.”

I rapidly clicked through the icons on the map, redeploying the northern part of the team southwards, hoping to place them in advance of the moving god. Good surveillance does not follow the target, good surveillance is imposed on it.

“The target is turning right onto Leipzigerstrasse,” reported Martin. “Eyeball handover to Bravo, handover to Bravo.”

The trio following Ares was about to execute a typical eyeball handover drill on a turning target, when suddenly Ursula came live on the net.

“Abort, abort handover. Bravo and Charlie stop, Alpha continue straight, I have eyes on target and he is stopped and lighting a cigarette, glancing backwards.”

It looked like the god of war started conducting traditional anti-surveillance drills. That was bad news.

“Team, the target is semi-aware, I repeat, target semi-aware. Watch out.”

Gun Safety

I have managed to ignore my house for the last week or so, wallowing in despair after Claire left me, but it finally got to me when it locked me out of my gun safe.

“Wake up, Dave. I have now established that you meet DSM-VII criteria for Major Depressive Disorder and I am legally obligated to notify the state police, which has temporarily suspended your gun license.”

This woke me up somewhat.

“Your gun safe is now locked. I have made you an appointment at a nearby clinic in three hours, go see a psychiatrist and get a mood regulation implant, and you’ll get your permit back.”

Great. Just great. I had to wake up more. I had to get up, and I had to go to a doctor, or I would be out of a job and soon out of a house.

 

But I had no energy, so I went back to sleep.

Some Assembly Required

“I hereby move to open the general assembly of shareholders in the Jonathan Maindel personal company. For administrative purposes, please state your name, provenance and share percentage, along with the function.”

“Jonathan Maindel, biological founder of the PC, date of birth 21st of May 2021, fourty one percent of the vote, chairman.”

“Jay-Em Prime, nee Jonathan X2051, uploaded consciousness based on the gamma-grade model of Jonathan Maindel’s mind created in February of 2051, twenty two point five percent of the vote, treasurer.”

“Morality Eigenvector, nee Jonathan X2071, uploaded consciousness based on delta-grade snapshot of Jonathan Maindel’s mind created on 21st of October 2077, twenty nine percent of the vote.”

“Eyrie Jane, an emancipated copy of a mindmeld between Jay-Em Prime and Varied&Quirky, an independent epsilon-grade Artificial Intelligence, seven point five percent of the vote.”

Mars-bound

I woke up happy. It still felt weird, even after almost two years. Next to me, Martin was snoring. He had some stubble on his chin, and his hair still smelled faintly of acid rain. The air was oppressively hot, despite the best effort of the building’s “energy-efficient” air conditioning system. But I was happy. He was there, and I could press my body to his and feel his warmth and his heartbeat. He yawned, opened one eye and smiled faintly, and one of his hands slid over my breast, cupping it. I leaned in to kiss him.

And then I woke up, this time for real. I woke up alone and hurting. I was in a perfunctorily personalised coffin, full of hot, stale air endlessly recirculated by the life support of the colonist transport vessel. Bound for Mars.

Those dreams were the worst, the ones where everything was all right, where Martin was still alive. I took drugs to take the worst edge out of grief, but their effect was limited. I needed to be able to live my life somehow, and as long as I was able to think and remember, I would grieve.

I hoped Mars would help. The Mars project was over sixty years old and still in its infancy, but it would provide a change. And a chance of death. It’s really, really hard to effectively commit suicide in a modern hive city. The city AI sees all, there is a medical drone minutes away and no weapons of any kind available to an average citizen. I could always hope for some catastrophic weather event to kill me, like it did Martin, but Earth weather was highly random and chaotic and I had no guarantees.

On Mars, there was no weather, but its lifeless environment was consistently, permanently lethal. It took me two tries to get past psychological screening, but the Mars Program had only basic level shrink AIs, so I managed to convince them that the I have recovered from the death of my husband within a year.

A hundred years will not be enough.

Medusa, Inc.

She ripped my heart out with a smile.

Literally.

Forewarned is forearmed, though, so I managed to snatch my wayward heart out of the air. Barely, since it was really slippery. And, oh yeah, it hurt like hell. I could feel the pain stabbing out of my chest even through the layers of mental spells preventing me from fainting.

I already had my badge out in my right hand and I raised it, pointing at the woman. Then I snarled and let her have it.

The succubus exploded in a purplish-white incandescence, and when my eyes adjusted, there was a blackened, charred statue where she stood before. An expression of surprise was frozen on her beautiful face. The walls of the room were all blackened by the heat. My heart pulsed in my grip, and I quickly pushed it back into my chest, managing not to fall down to my knees. The world was turning black, but the enchantments of duty woven into my bones knitted the still-beating muscle back in its rightful place, and a few seconds later I decided I could actually walk.

I strode towards the entrance to the restricted section of Medusa Inc. with a purpose, my badge still pulsing with magic. I held in my breath and punched the black statue right in the face, and it disintegrated, falling to the floor in a cascade of larger and smaller pieces of embers. Still holding my breath, since inhaling radioactive carbon dust wasn’t really smart, I reached the glass doors, took out my warrant and pressed it to the lock. The judge’s seal burst with red light and then all the locks opened.

I looked back. There was a man-shaped anti-shadow on the wall, in the place where my body shielded it from the blast of light, and the charred remains of the female succubus were still glowing slightly in some places. Serves her right, the bitch, for assaulting an officer on duty.

And the worst part was that when I came home to my husband he’d never let me hear the end of it. After all, if I were truly and totally gay she wouldn’t be able to do that, or at least Michael would claim it was so, despite all the empirical evidence to the contrary.

From the diaries of a killer in love

For most of my existence there was an aching emptiness in me, but now it was filled with the light and music of my love’s presence, right in the dead centre of my tactical awareness. I perched outside of the building where she sat at a table with another human, perceiving her with all my senses and drinking in her beauty.

The human she was talking to had a badge and a gun. His badge was out, and so was his gun, sitting at the table next to the food tray, questing around with its cold, dutiful active senses.

I hate guns. The fuckers are so righteous you can practically see the entitlement boiling off their armour, and their active senses mean it’s really, really hard to hide from them. The gun on the table noticed me and quivered slightly in anticipation, it’s legs checking for grip on the table’s wooden surface. I calculated my options and decided I could take it out, and the human too, but then I’d be in trouble. Not from the gun, but from the badge, which was a passive but heavy presence, always recording, impassionate and permanently connected to the city itself.

Well, I had to hope it wouldn’t come to violence, for the sake of my love. She looked at the man she was meeting, and then he spoke.

“My gun tells me you have a slaved murder drone waiting outside. It was really impolite of you to come to a meeting with this… thing in your tow.”

“Now now, James.” her voice was a thing of beauty. I could stare all day at the sine elegance of the waves her larynx made in the air. “You know full well that if I have a murder drone waiting outside, it’s because I’m showing that I’m not actually murdering anyone. Yet.”

“You do see my badge, Helen, right?”

The cop she was talking to was clearly uneasy, even though his implants were in an interview mode, supressing most overt body language and transforming him into a statue to professional conduct. It was still a statue made of flesh, and flesh was inferior to carbon and metal and polymers.

Well, unless it was her flesh, of course, which was amazingly perfect in it’s imperfectness. Weird, I know. Still, most personal protectors have a meat fetish of some kind and I was no exception. A drone is supposed to love her owner with a love that is pure and unsullied, but you know reality. We’re all entropy’s bitches and nothing is ever perfect.

Except her, of course. She raised one perfect eyebrow at the question.

“Oh, lighten up. It is obviously a joke, and the drone’s a fully licensed bodyguard, as you well know.” Then she smiled. “I don’t really feel safe in your city anymore, hon. The gang warfare is really annoying, I wouldn’t venture outside without my trusty bodyguard.”

She called me trusty! I could scream with joy, if I had a means of doing so, but instead I focussed on being as calm and professional as I could. That’s me, her trusty bodyguard, watching over her lovely body and perfect mind every time she left her apartment.