by John Dodd

Or so the slogan goes. It’s the middle of the week, DownTown Sector fifteen, and at the beginning of my shift, they tell me I’ve got a tag along. This is slang for interfering busybodies from the media department who really should have better things to do with their time than bother good hard working people like me, in fact, they should just bugger off and leave us to our underpaid, overworked lives. But that’s a bit of a long-winded explanation, so control just tell us we’ve got a tag along.

I’m the designated rider for the patrol, which is to say that Mary, my partner, is the one doing the driving, which in turn means that unfortunately I have to be the one talking to the reporter gimp. I spend five minutes trying to bribe her with everything I can think of but she knows the score, it’s not going to be worth it to have to talk to these bastards.

I sigh inwardly and strap on my armour, clearly displaying the logo of several of our sponsors around the large red cross on my chest. The reporter is waiting for me at the wagon, and for one second, I believe that it’s going to be okay, she’s a few inches above five feet, and the lack of height is made up for by the width of her chest. I admire the scenery for a second before something happens that disrupts my entire chain of thought and renders all previous opinions moot.

She speaks……..

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, reporters have always had a voice pitched just between gash fists scraping down armour and carnivorous pigs eating victims. I involuntarily check my watch to make sure the high pitched trilling hasn’t broken the front of it. It seems to be okay, so I turn my attention back to the reporter.

“This is Janie Case, reporting live for Third Eye, where we are about to be taken on an actual patrol with one of Morts Finest ambulance crews.” She somehow manages to speak without turning her grin off or moving her lips, it’s quite an unnerving sight. I remain silent as I approach, hoping that she’ll keep the questions to the point. I am instantly reminded that god has a sense of humour and it’s directed at me at the moment.

“This is the leader of medic team 27, Nathaniel Joseph Racklan, a man with over fifty confirmed lifetime saves, over two thousand unconfirmed, and two celebrity rescues.”
I nod to her and continue to the cabin of the wagon, motioning for them to sit in the back compartment, I suspect that this gets on her nerves, I hear one of her feet stamp as I go past and she trills again.

“Mr Rackan, do you have a few words for the camera?” I point at the back of the wagon “Watch and Weep.” I murmur out of the back of my head.

I hear another stamp behind me and I smile to myself, getting in the wagon, Mary smiles over at me and shakes her head silently, she knows my particular tolerance for people like this, they have no business being here, and no point in what they are filming either. Some perv in uptown wants footage of bodies and mutilation to jack off all over, no self respecting downtowner would watch a program like this, they can just look out of their window and get all they want……

Still, Mary thumbs up the power unit on the wagon and we’re away, the armoured doors of the safehouse roll back, rumbling like the guardian to hell giving up one of his prizes, and we’re away into the cold night.

The comm chatter is unusually muted, and I figure that HQ is screening calls for us, so that they don’t see some of the nastier things we have to do. I wonder what Mr jack off in uptown thinks about that, but hey, it’s not my problem, I just patch them up. Miss Case is still bubbling away in the background, irritating woman, still, I seem to remember something about her doing an interview on sewer management a while ago, if I remember, she got her arm bit off in that one. I glance down at her arm, seeing the pale mismatch of skin characterising a karma replacement (and not a very expensive one either), I look up and see her fixing her hair in a small mirror with a Third eye personalisation on it.

“Team 27, this is control” the mike crackles.
I pick up the mike “T27 responding, hey Annie, how you doing?”
“Team 27, proceed to a 2.3, corner of grey and 35th.” I smile to myself, Jim, the sector controller, a man who is still looking for whoever cut his nuts off in a previous life, is obviously putting everyone on best behaviour for this night. This could be fun.
“This is T27, roger, but requesting clarification, grey and 35th, isn’t that where Jim gets his weekly blowjob?”
Annie stifles a smirk and the radio cuts off in a burst of static, coming back a half minute later with a man's voice, carefully modulated to remain calm.
“This is control Team 27, keep it professional or you’ll be fined.”
I smile again “Hey Jim, I’ll tell Alison you’ll be over later.” there’s another muffled curse quickly stifled and the radio goes quiet.

Behind me, miss case shuffles in her seat and taps on the glass. I slide it back and glance over my shoulder.
“Is that true?”
I glance over her shoulder to the camera behind her, the red light is on, and the boom mike is hovering.
“No,” I reply, my face deadly serious “it’s just me having a laugh with control.”
“Is that necessary?” her face is carefully poised to reflect her disdain of the situation, her measured disapproval of what I have just said.
“Not at all,” I smile “it just keeps us sane.”
She pouts, an expression long practised, designed to make it look as if she cares about this matter. I shrug inwardly and turn back to the dashboard. Mary takes one hand off briefly to wag her finger at me and I smile, no doubt we’ll pass by Alison and I’ll say hi, and that Jim will no doubt be around tonight to work off some of his tension.

We get to the location in a matter of minutes and I grab the black bag from the cabin, grabbing my sidearm from the other side. As I exit the vehicle, the camera crew is already out there and waiting for me. I holster the sidearm and move over to the injured ganger, who’s rolling around on the floor, screaming blue murder. It’s nothing serious, looks like CAF fire. I pin him down and open up the bag, picking out the round and spreading KSC on the wound. It starts to close up slowly and I close the bag, getting up and moving him off the street. I notice the crew is gathered around him as I head back towards the wagon, pausing for a second, I fire off a quick whistle to get their attention. One of the camera guys turns to me and I motion for them to move up quickly. Despite this, they spend a further minute lingering over the wound before they tire of it (in other words, it closes) and come back to the wagon. Once on board, Miss Case looks through the window and starts trilling again.

“That wasn’t a normal SLA drug was it?”

I can’t believe the stupidity of this woman, if it was a non-SLA drug, she’s just announced it to all and sundry. I sigh to myself again and mentally prepare my response.

“Of course it’s a SLA drug, it’s called KSC, which stands for Kick Start Civilian, it is a milder version of Operative KickStart, which is only used for emergency cases. In cases where the gangers have been shooting each other up, it’s too expensive to waste normal kickstart on them, and they’ll only take that as an excuse to be using better firearms. This way, the person I just gave that does to will be wandering around for a few more days with a very sore chest, then they’ll be fine.”

I can see that her interest went around the time I’d said course, so I continue, the camera crew is being professional about this, and if nothing else, I can explain a little something should this ever go out of downtown TV.

“This is simple really, we’re not here to patch up people after fights, we’re here to patch people up who, through no fault of their own, have fallen victim to unfortunate circumstance, this way, we keep the cost down and the people moving.”

One of the camera guys nudges Case from her staring out of the window and she starts visibly, pausing for a few seconds while her brain tries in vain to catch up with what has been said.

“So, in your opinion, is it worth patching up gangers” Nice sharp question, time to play political.

“Every person” Her attention span is gone again “no matter their circumstance, is entitled to the protection of SLA and the right to be patched up from their injuries, SLA would never say that anyone is not worth patching up.” She looks like she’s gone to sleep again, the camera guy nudges her again.

“So why did only you go out there then?”

“Standard Operating procedure, each one of these wagons carries enough drugs to keep a gang buzzing for a month, if both of us go out, they can get the controls to the van, and by default, the drug store.” She’s looking confused again, so I elaborate. “If only one of us goes out, the other person can signal backup should something bad happen.” My mistake, it wasn’t confusion, it was boredom.

I shrug to myself and turn back to the dash, Mary glances over, guess I must have sounded a little bit rattled with the last comments. I flash a swift grin over to her, too swift it would seem, she smiles sadly, as if to say “Don’t let it get to you.”

Twenty minutes goes by without a call, and we stop to pick up a little food, I bring back enough for five, putting it on the expense account. The two camera people are more than grateful, while Miss Case looks at the food as if it was still moving (truth be told, five minutes ago, it probably was). We eat in strained silence for a minute before the first member of the camera team pipes up.

“So what’s the weapon?”

I glance over at the camera, the guy shakes his head almost imperceptibly and his finger flash just below Miss Cases line of sight, I read the sign language, camera off – no recording. I nod and take out my sidearm, passing it over to him.

“It’s a standard issue SM50, three barrels, each one with a separate clip, one loaded with stormer tranq, one with SpeedFlush, and one with .50 Drop rounds” He looks at the weapon with professional courtesy, looking at the small input port at the back of the handle, he looks up with one eye brow raised. I raise my glove, showing him the small line on the palm.

“It’s a safety catch, the best one there is, the clips only engage when a medic’s glove is in contact with the handle, anything else can pull the trigger all they want, nothing will set it off. There’s a half second delay between contact on the handle and clips engaging, but it’s worth it for when some moron gets hold of the gun”.

“Flip barrel?” he asks.

I nod with a mixture of affirmation and respect, he’s obviously done his homework on weapons “Yep, you just turn the barrel to which clip you want to use and pull the trigger, simple as that.” He turns the weapon in his hand and passes it back, handle first. I nod again and holster it.

A moment of companionable silence and then case pipes up again.
“What’s Speedflush?”
I glance over to the camera guy and he nods to indicate that the camera is back on.
“Speedflush is a specially designed variant of Flush that works almost instantly and incorporates a large dose of Drum at the same time, it can drop anything on drugs almost instantly, we save it for when the stormer tranq doesn’t work”.
“When would it not work?” she asks, trying to sound interested.
“Well, UV and Blaze UV have special endorphin boosters that prevent normal drugs from working while they are in the system, so normal tranqs have no effect. SF both drops their current drug usage, and pumps them full of Drum, which, due to their blood already being pumped up, runs through them and puts them down almost instantly.”
“And what’s a drop round?” she continues, I glance back to the camera crew and see that they’ve already cut transmission on that question.
“It’s a .50 armour piercing round with a core of solid unobtainium, once it scores a damaging hit, the core melts and reaches all the vital organs inside of a second, death is instant, no remedy.” She doesn’t pick up on the reference to unobtainium, behind her, the camera crew smile and nod, knowing that I can’t name the substance that is actually used in the rounds. Her eyes suddenly light up with the possibility of some scandal.
“Isn’t it possible you could shoot a civilian with this?”
“No” I look at her coldly “no, it isn’t possible” “But what if you fire by accident” She obviously thinks that she’s still on the air and this is a good soundbite to jump on.
“You have to pull the trigger twice to fire one of these rounds, they can’t be accidentally fired, you have to be wearing a medic glove, move the barrel and align it correctly, and pull the trigger twice before one of these rounds will be fired. Accidents do not happen here.”
“But what if they did” like a dog on a bone, I swear “Yes” I smile nastily “it’s possible that someone might get shot by one of these rounds, someone who asked too many questions and had no respect for those she was talking to, it is possible.”
Her mouth drops open in outrage and she looks back over her shoulder triumphantly to see both her crew engaged in a game of cards on the medbay table and the camera non-functioning in front of her. She looks back to see me meaningfully fingering the handle of my SM50 and makes a point of looking at her fingernails a lot.

Mary slaps me playfully on the thigh, wagging her finger again. I’m probably going to get into trouble one of these days for saying something I shouldn’t have done, but hey, what they going to do, sentence me to medic duty in DownTown? The thought makes me smile for a moment before the radio brings me back to the present.

“All units, vicinity of Slipstream and 97th, 1.3 in progress, all units please assist” The voice isn’t Annie's, it’s deeper, more controlled, I pick up the mike.
“This is 27, verify code.”
“This is SA dispatch 27, your code is 9194, are you on route?”
The code is Station Analysis, the fact that they know that SA have a four digit reference code makes it a ninety percent chance of being a true call, we’ll take it.
“That’s an affirmative SA, 27 on route.”

Behind us, the camera crew ready themselves to exit the van, I look backwards, shaking my head.
“Not safe out there, you all stay in here.” I bark, a little more sharply than I had intended.
“But you two are going out there………..” Miss Case drops even further in my estimation
“No.” I put on my most stern tone “I am going out there, no one else - a code 1 is too dangerous to involve civilians in.”
“What’s a code one?”
“Multiple homicide by well armed or trained individuals.”
Her eyes light up like an advertisement board in Duburbia and I curse to myself. “You stay here.” I warn her as we pull up on the corner.

I grab my bag and step out of the wagon into a scene from hell itself. Over twenty civilians are down, bullet wounds to most of them, two or three long knife injuries. Down the street, the local Shiver station is locking itself down and over to the right, two humans with modified SLA weapons are raking the street with automatic fire, while three others are waiting behind them. I ignore them, hoping that the Operatives will turn up faster than they normally do, moving over to the first of the downed civilians, they’re down, but not out. As I reach them, their eyes flick open and blood sprays out of their mouth, I clamp down on their tongue, feeling them bite down on my gauntlet as the rough edges exacerbate the injury they’ve already suffered. With the other free hand, I fix an ampoule of KS to my air hypo and plunge it into their chest. Instantly, they calm down as the anaesthetic qualities take over, I wait for a second as my glove registers their life-signs stabilising and slowly remove my hand from their mouth, moving on to the next. A noise to my left and I spare an irritated glance as the news crew exits from the side of the wagon, the camera guy glances over at me with a “blame her” expression on his face. She strikes a pose to the left of me and starts talking to the camera, completely clueless to what is going on around her.

I hear a roar behind me and spin around, ripping my SM50 from its holster. The two humans are now running up the road towards us as the other three run towards the Shiver station. I flip the barrel to Speedflush and pop a round into the first one. She slows to half speed and drools for a second, then pitches to the floor with an audible crack. The second sends a few rounds in my direction, the 10mm rounds flattening themselves on my armour, sending me crashing to the floor. I stare up at the ceiling for a second or so, then wrench myself upright in time to see the second terrorist ram their knife into Case. I flip the barrel again and put one drop round into them, watching as they fall to the floor silently.

I clear the other bodies in the street and move to Case, she’s on the floor, her hands frantically scrabbling at the puncture wound on her chest. I try to get her to stop but she’s panicking, this is the sort of thing we deal with every day, but if I mess this one, we’re on camera, nothing like a bit of pressure to aid your concentration. The terrorists are obviously DarkNight as this is a shatter blade wound, the piece that broke off the knife is inside her, steadily working it’s way deeper the more she struggles. I slap a chill patch over the wound and flip open my SLA blade, pushing it into the wound to make contact with the piece that broke off. She’s semi-catatonic now as I reach in with my other hand. I move past the low quality silicon implant and follow the path of the sliver. She watches in shock as her skin moves around my gauntlet for a second, then has the good grace to faint away as one of her implants slides out through the knife wound. I pull my hand out, covered with her blood, holding the small sliver of metal. I flick the metal away and plunge a shot of kickstart into her, they can always replace the implant and I figure that Third Eye will be happy to reimburse me for the things I use here. As I finish there, there is a small explosion from down the street, and the other three terrorists go down in a hail of fire from an operative squad, just arriving on the scene. I move to the other bodies, stabilising three more before the other teams arrive, then get up in time to see Miss Case stand up unsteadily, staring down in horror at her uneven chest.

She stares over at me and draws breath to swear as I raise one hand (the one with bits of her implant and blood on it) to my temple and snap off a quick salute, turning to face the cameras that are focusing on both of us. She notices that the cameras have both of us in focus and she turns away, holding both her hands over her chest to hide what has happened. I flip up my visor and smile broadly.

“You’re welcome.”