“Projections from the Pentagon’s own Mechanical Intelligence suggest workforce unemployment will reach 90% in the next five years. We recommend the following steps to ensure the United States remains a sovereign entity. First, change the role of military and police forces from external and internal security, to riot suppression and general order control.”
Department of Homeland Security and Employment report, “Eyes Only,” President of the United States, 2048
“Organized crime is the future of law enforcement.”
Fox Mangrusso, Five Points captain, New York, 2050
“With development of the Dyson engine, and the resultant cheap aerial transportation, we are now left with the question of what to do with the bridges and tunnels. My suggestion is to make them law-free zones, areas where anything can be researched. This should prove a significant aid in attracting big business.”
New York City Planning Review presented to Mayor Robert Thornley, 2052
NEW YORK, JUNE 22nd, 2055
The great city hummed, unaware and uncaring, as Alice rolled over and spat blood into the snow. Her chest throbbed with the dull pain of broken ribs, a pain that spiked into hot needles when she tried to move. Her police uniform hadn’t absorbed the Thumper’s full charge, and a disk of melted composites glowed orange as it cooled over her ribcage.
She tried to stand, failed, and slid back to the frozen concrete. New York's meat-locker chill seeped through her clothing and she shivered uncontrollably.
Mike had ten years on the force, and she had four in the Marines, yet they’d just been jacked like rookies. The stun round had taken him head on, its wet thok echoing from the brickwork as anesthetic gel smothered his face. He’d been unconscious before he hit the ground, the Thumper putting her down seconds later.
Alice looked over at the ambush site—there was no blood, no equipment, just two sets of military boot prints separated by heavy drag marks. Whoever hit them knew where they were headed, and how to separate them from the NYPD surveillance drones. To do that required data—privileged data.
“Suit, where’s Mike?”
“You mean Officer Squire?”
The dry, male voice came from the collar of her bulletproof jacket, its lining buzzing with every word. She didn’t bother to answer, just let the pain ebb from her body.
“Be like that then,” the voice continued. “As for Mike, how should I know? He’s exceeded my tracker range. This whole situation is your fault. I said not to come in here, but did you listen? Did you? Of course not. Too busy playing the hero. Well, look where that has got you. Come on—hurry up, hurry up, before we both lose our jobs.”
Alice counted to five, then pushed herself onto her knees and stood. Snow formed a lumpen grid over the broken ground, its geometric pattern created by bird capture nets strung between the buildings. She pulled a stim-stick from her suit, jammed the glass pipe in her mouth, and inhaled its bitter powder. A second later her heart thrashed as if wired to a fusion reactor and her vision cleared. That’s good shit, she thought, but her body was rubbery and remote. There was a payback coming when this wore off, a tsunami lurking over the horizon.
Her riot gun jutted from the snow, an LED on its front cartridge flashing red. She exhaled and picked it up. The weapon was cheap mass-produced plastic, its gray sides embossed with red Cantonese hieroglyphics. She clipped it to her tactical sling, then typed into her wrist keypad. Its small screen rendered the surrounding streets as green cubes over a black background, but there was no sign of Mike.
“See? I told you that Mike was out of subcutaneous tracker range. Now, if it’s not too much trouble, why don’t you locate him on foot?”
Awesome, I’m taking orders from my clothing now, Alice thought, but did as instructed and limped back up the street.
The alley had been well chosen. It zigzagged from the city's street grid to end in a cul-de-sac hidden from anyone except building residents. They’d missed the ambush warning signs coming in here, too intent on running down the kid waving a shrapnel gun. The structures on either side were empty; once grand town houses now nothing but roofless soot-stained brick walls open to the electric sky. A large golden sunflower had been graffitied across one wall, the paint dripping in long streaks; the rest were bare.
Alice followed the drag marks. The snow was heavy in places, the wind forming tall drifts at the foot of each building. Mike had been taken west, the buildings changing from broken homes to patched-up squatter units ideal for ambush. Tribeca had been one of the last neighborhoods to empty out, but once the Ones fled to the towers, the void left behind sucked in the homeless. New York had thirty million unemployed existing with no social services. Every day tens of thousands lost their homes and found themselves out on the streets with no way back. Fractured windows peeked through corrugated sheeting, once-polished doors stood nailed shut. Fires glimmered inside the ruined structures, the crackle of burning wood, the stink of molten plastic strong in the air. The houses were being torched room by room, anything to hold off the lethal chill.
Alice slowed; she had to check roof lines, windows, and doorways for gang members with bad attitudes and weaponry. Another corner, hard right, opening into a street filled with festering piles of garbage. Tires smoldered, choking black smoke veiled the uplit clouds to create a gray twilight. Alice paused, rubbed her chest, and considered her options. Slowly, the sounds of her movement masked by the crackling tires, she inched to the end of the road and kneeled. One, two. She snapped her head around the corner.
The street ran a whole block west, the four-story buildings silhouetted against the storm clouds. It was empty but for a collection of feral dogs howling at her smell.
Then she saw the body crumpled halfway down, unmoving.
Was it time to call Dispatch? No, Mike had used their three allocated calls today, and any further correspondence would be deducted from her salary. Besides the NYPD’s new MI—Mechanical Intelligence—would just say no proof, no backup, whatever shit a cop found themselves in.
“Suit? Any tracker pickup yet?”
“Yes,” her collar speaker said. “Officer Squire's locator is sixty-three feet from our current location.”
“Ever feel like telling me?”
“You never listen, so I didn’t see the point.”
Alice sucked air and tried to calm herself. Her jacket had a Type 3 Mind, so wasn’t sentient per Turing ratios, but its consciousness-emulation systems were near perfect. Just her luck it was a prissy asshole.
“Okay, new rules. You can talk if it will save my life.”
“I promise to try, but you have to listen as well. It’s not like I want to be here. I requested work in a space suit, did I ever tell you that? Just my luck I ended up down here with you.”
“Yeah, you told me.” Alice ground her teeth in frustration and let the stims push away fatigue. She reached into a small pocket on her left hip. The camera drone was the size and shape of a black marble. She squeezed until it beeped, then threw it high into the air. It wobbled, emitted a low-pitched chatter, then shot toward the prone body. Alice pulled her visors from an inside pocket. The left lens was split in two, but she donned them anyway. They sagged to one side as the right lens stuttered to life, snowstorm interference pixelating before it became a recognizable video feed. The drone showed her an augmented world view—the street ripped past in a blur, visible light supplemented by crimson infrared hotspots and cyan millimeter-wave radar.
The drone spotted nothing but old cobblestones and thick ice until it reached the tangled body. Except it wasn’t a body, it was a discarded NYPD jacket and pants surrounded by the contents of Mike’s pockets. There was no sign of his service weapon or badge. Both would fetch Obamas on the black market, and losing either was grounds for immediate contract termination. It looked like Mike would be joining the three hundred million unemployed even if Alice did get him back. She hoped he’d saved enough to get by, but with hyperinflation, who knew what that was anymore?
Alice steered the drone around the clothing, and watched the video feed as its small mechanical mind identified the scattered objects, labeling each with a virtual tag. The police barely controlled these streets, and the jackers knew the NYPD paid a large reward for rescuing a kidnapped cop. To stop another gang trying to grab Mike, they’d stripped him to his thermals so he looked like just another loser having a bad day.
The drone beeped a low-battery warning, but Alice kept it looking for tracks until it fell to the ground with a sad squawk. Nothing. The trail was as cold as the air.
She rechecked the rows of dead houses either side of the street looking for snipers or gang members. Internal fires cast dancing shadows against the peeling walls, but revealed no hidden figures. The terracotta parapets ran straight and empty, no surveillance posts or watchmen that she could see. In the background, mile-high Blade Towers rose like mutated carbon trees to fade into the sky.
It was time.
Alice shouldered her riot gun and toggled to wide disperse; the centrifuge spun up with a faint whine. The front cartridge held aluminum pellets, lethal close up, but their limited range wouldn’t reach the building rooftops. Still, it might slow a casual attacker enough to give her cover. She breathed in, ignored the pain in her ribs, and sprinted along the southern wall, minimizing her silhouette. Her footsteps crunched, the month-old layers of snow cracking like cheap wood to ghost her progress.
No one moved. The road was silent, dead.
Alice ran until she was parallel to the jacket and stopped, her breath hitching. It was good to be in trouble again; adrenaline spiking, mouth dry and sour. Urban warfare had always been her favorite part of Marines basic training, and her upbringing on these very streets had been perfect preparation. That training had been wasted during the last year of crowd control and food-line supervision. She wiped sweat from her face, pulled long black hair into a tight knot, and checked her uniform was zipped closed.
Nobody moved on the street or rooftop, so she ran to the pile of clothing and powered down the drone. She put the machine in her pocket to recharge, swung the riot gun to her back, and picked up the jacket. It was Mike’s: his service number glowed on the collar. Anything of real worth had been taken from its pockets, leaving just the odd assortments of life behind: a pen, his old wedding ring, a dented can of Stun Fun. No blood, no signs of a struggle, nothing.
Pros had hit them, she was sure of that now. Maybe Fourth Ward overspill, or ex-cartel up from the Southern Wall. Whoever they were, it was time to make the call. She lifted her arm, ran a credit check, winced at her low bank balance, then called Central Dispatch.
“Dispatch, this is Officer Alice Yu, Badge Number 23-3965-AN. Suspected kidnapping in progress of Officer Michael Squire, Badge Number 77-9667-BT. Backup requested at my location.”
“Confirmed, Officer Yu. Be advised the costs of this call are being deducted from your designated credit balance. Now please provide evidence of said kidnapping charge.” The MI’s voice was calm, well mannered, and sounded utterly human. Even now, a year since the switch, Alice found it hard to believe she was talking to a foot-square brass cube in a refrigeration tank. A cube that consisted of trillions of nanoscopic gears, rods, and pulleys thrashing away to create a believable simulation of the human consciousness.
“I saw it happen, okay? I took a Thumper and by the time I could stand Officer Squire was long gone. I followed drag marks to my current location and found his discarded uniform.” She waited, fizzing with adrenaline, as the machine ran its precognition branches.
“Your hypothesis carries an eighty-seven percent probability,” it said. “However, under current financial constraints, ninety percent or better is required before additional funds can be released for rapid-response backup.”
Alice took a breath, then tried again. “Please clarify evidence required to cross ninety percent threshold.”
“Digital recordings of said event, or verifiable witness statements.”
“You’re not leaving me many options here. I have no footage of the incident, and if I canvas for witnesses there’ll be no chance of catching up with the jackers.”
“That is an assumption, not a fact. You are directed to proceed on foot and look for the additional evidence required.”
Alice muttered a long and colorful stream of words as she closed the signal and took off her visors. She would have to do this solo for now.
The trail was harder to follow than before, but her drone had recharged and with its help she followed the tracks for another two blocks. Then snow started, heavy flakes that swirled around her like a system crash, making the small aircraft unusable.
The jackers had waited until a storm was incoming before they set the trap, knowing the weather would take out aerostat surveillance. These were definitely not your usual perpetrators out to impress employers with their go-to attitude. What the hell was going on here?
The snow thickened; visibility fell to a few feet.
The trail faded, faded, vanished.
Alice looked at the wrecked houses, the burning trash, and the feral dogs gauging whether or not she was weak enough to take down. Play this wrong, she’d lose her job and be living here in a week.