By France VanLang-Hoang, HTMLized by Gustav Dahlström.
I left the weight room (actually, it's just the corner of my apartment that has the Cyberflex weight system) and dressed. A tall, well-built and aging oriental police detective watched me impassively from the mirror. Not that anyone could tell I'm a cop by looking - my clothes say "civilian" for the most part and I keep my double-barreled gyroslugger well-hidden in the folds of my trench coat. The gun isn't a standard-issue police sidearm, but then I'm not a normal policeman.
My home isn't too run-of-the-mill, either. I live in a "fortress apartment" located in a three-block Civic Territory in south Los Angeles. "Granny Firepower" owns the three complexes and rules the CT they make up. Granny believes, with some justification, that the best kind of stranger is a dead one.
I thanked Granny for her attitude as I walked down to the private parking garage - never in ten years had a car been damaged in her buildings. A restored 1969 Corvette Stingray waited down there for me. The externals were stock, anyway - the gas tank, fire extinguisher, tires, engine, electronics, and reinforced armor were new, but none of them broke the classic lines of the silver 'Vette's body. I disarmed the anti-theft system, sank into the safety seat, and growled out onto the street. There's nothing like the predatory rumble of Detroit iron - nothing.
Where do I get the gas? Let's just say that I once helped out a generous man in Texas with a strong sense of gratitude. The tanker trucks still stop by at least once a month.
The sun crept over the horizon as I crept up the 1-110 onramp. A few cars weaved across the freeway, but other than those few, the road was pretty much deserted. I looked across the city
Los Angeles. The city of angels. Even fifty years ago, in the Golden Eighties, Los Angeles was a happening place, different from the other cities in its personality, mood, and makeup. But after the city government collapsed in the Thanksgiving Massacre of 201 7, it seemed the fun-filled days of L.A. were gone forever. In 2020, the area finally began to settle down. By that time, over a hundred small gangs ruled sections of the city - now called Civic Territories - of Los Angeles. They still do. At the Reasoner Studio Summit, these groups signed a truce and the Civic Senate was born. Everything's been improving since then (when compared to 201 7, anyway), though inter-CT violence is the norm and duelling on the highways is still common - over 80% of L.A. cars are armed.
My Corvette is unarmed, however. I know that's a death warrant waiting to be signed, but I only use the 'Vette to drive to the station, and ruining the graceful lines of a Stingray with external weaponry still seems like blasphemy. Besides, nothing had ever happened on the ten-minute drive to the Station before, so I was quite surprised when a call on the police channel spilled out of door speakers.
"All units alert! We have a violent gray lux heading east past the Civic Arena on Route 60 at 100 miles per hour. Vehicle wrecks have been reported along the highway. Closest units are ordered to pursue and intercept."
Great. Some hotshot cowboy was ripping up traffic again.
"Radio One, this is 4D-36. I'm heading north on I-i 10 and am close to the ramp leading to 60. I'm in an unarmed gasburner. Should I pursue? Over."
"4D-36, you are ordered to pursue. Officer Wells, if you can't stop the vehicle, at least keep it busy for someone who can. Over."
"Okie dokie." I floored the accelerator as the whine and snarl of the turbocharged 350 cubic-inch engine flooded my thoughts and the rush of power swept my body (you never get too old for some things). Hitting the interchange between 1-110 and Route 60 at around 85 miles per hour, the Stingray left skid marks across 60 feet of asphalt. There were at least four wrecks spread across the road - easy enough to do if the drivers weren't expecting combat. An explosion flared up about 300 yards ahead as I passed a pair of lightlyarmed civilians.
Redlining at 167, the Corvette finally closed in on the troublemaker. It was a luxury all right, with unpainted steel plating and weapon ports everywhere. The driver weaved through the early-morning commuters like a cat, blasting anything which came into his firing arcs. The combat itself was unnatural; too many things happened at once. The car drifted, swerved, fired heavy guns and dropped spikes all at once. It must have carried three gunners, but it couldn't there's not enough room.
The Stingray came closer as a ten-wheel van strayed within the driver's wrath. Several well-placed shots from a large-bore weapon of some sort demolished the truck's rightrear tires and all of a sudden, there were chickens everywhere. Swerving and braking to avoid the rolling truck, I tapped the radio and hailed the driver.
"This is the Police. Would the driver of the steel-covered luxury please respond? Over."
Static. I tried again.
"Yo, hotshot! Anybody in there?"
An electronically altered voice responded, slipping from high nasal to a deep bass and wavering between the two extremes. Odd clicks and buzzes interrupted his speech.
"Oooo-whee! Zzzzzzrrrrowl where's that bacon smell coming from?"
I matched speeds with him, keeping roughly 120 feet between us. One flick of a switch, and the 'Vette's headlights popped up and flashed the red-and-whites. We weaved down Route 60 at 95 miles per.
"This is the Police. Pull over."
"Ooo, stuzzy. I haven't even kfreeeeee had breakfast yet!"
"Pull over in the name of the law!"
"Aw, what'cha gonna do, roscoe? Insult me to death? You don't even have enough armor there to ram a fly. Quirrrrrrrzz ."
I felt a lump in my throat. Not only was he very observant, he was right - all I could really do was throw insults and threats. I switched to the police channel. "This is 4D-36. Where in heaven's name is that backup? I'm worried that the guy I'm chasing is going to start giving me something besides flack. Over."
Suddenly, a warped voice cracked onto the radio.
"Fee fie fo fum; I smell a roscoe without a gun!" A distorted laugh cycled through two octaves.
I practically ate the mike as I screamed, "This is a police-only channel! Unauthorized use of it is a felony! Get off now!"
"No. You didn't say please."
The gray lux accelerated to triple-digit speeds to overtake another car. Combined fire from the big gun front and his turret took the ciwie's backside off in under a second. As we passed an onramp, three Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) interceptors pulled onto the highway behind us.
"4D-36, this is 41-22. The cavalry has arrived. Over."
I smiled. "Great. Let's get this turkey."
The gray lux powerslid down a northbound off ramp as the interceptors caught up with us. As we spiraled down the ramp at entirely too high a speed, we saw - too late - that the gray lux's driver had left us a generous helping of spikes. I turned the wheel hard over to avoid them, and the Corvette's rear tires lost traction. Firecracker pops tore into the Stingray's gatorbacks as I struggled to regain control. Then the world pitched crazily around me as the 'Vette rolled and slammed into the pylons between lanes.
Flames danced on top of the overturned Corvette as I crawled away from it, thoughts of barbecued ribs racing through my mind. There was a tremendous roar and a flash and then
Dizzy and weak.
The soft comfort of a bed underneath. Better.
The lights were dimmed to a soothing level. A hazy shape leaned across the bed. I squinted, and the shape resolved into Dr. Tiffany Young. The doctor and I are old acquaintances. We're both in our fifties...
I smiled. "What's up, doc?"
"You, hopefully." She replied, missing the reference. She never was into the classics.
I tried sitting up. It took me a while to get the right sequence of moves.
"Where am I?"
"Amalgamated Meditech Research Center Number Four."
Tiffany dug up a mirror and handed it to me. It took three tries to grab hold of it. I looked in it and saw not my fiftyfive year old reflection, but me twenty years ago.
I slumped back into the headboard and yelped as fresh nerves screamed their indignation. Dr. Young immediately took a syringe to my arm, and wonderful numbness spread through me.
"Take it easy. Your old body was a mass of third-degree burns, Vince. I'm frankly amazed that you were even readable."
"And this means?"
"Three weeks of very intensive therapy to get your new body moving, and then back to work. Meanwhile, Commissioner Griffin wants to see you." She left.
I looked in the mirror again. The lines of age were gone, as was the grayness in my hair - I had risen again. Suddenly, a word popped into my mind: Phoenix. As a child, the legend of the phoenix fascinated me. And now I'm an adult, and it still captivates me, but for another reason. The phoenix was a solitary male bird which burst into flame and died every 500 or 600 years only to rise again from its ashes, rejuvenated. Dreams into reality, fiction into fact...
Commissioner Eric Griffin - all 245 lbs. of him - invited himself in while I dressed. I finally had complete control over myself again, and had built up enough callouses so that I could tie my shoes without wincing.
"What the hell took you so long?"
"I've been dead." I replied, curtly, then added, "Nice to see you, too."
"Jokes later, Vince. We've some business to attend to." The commissioner led me down the hallway towards an office. "That leadfoot who aced you has turned out to be more than a leadfoot. We've some big trouble on our hands."
The commissioner opened an office door and walked in. A doctor - young, bronzed and entirely too healthy for someone with his job - rose to greet us.
"Doctor Talstar, this is Detective Vincent Wells. He's one of our best detectives, and a hell of a driver, too. He's assigned to this case."
"Case? Excuse me, Eric, but which case is this?"
The commissioner looked at me funny.
"The case you started three weeks ago on Route 60. That man that got the best of you wasn't a man. He was a cyborg."
The doctor interrupted. "Your commissioner is quite correct. The man in the steel duelling car isn't a man; he's an escaped cyborg using experimental hardware. His name is Kyle Namreh and he had been an amateur duellist before I implanted his cybernetics."
I slipped into the old rhythms of detective work, noting the name. "Tell me about the operation."
"Kyle Namreh was badly injured in a wreck two months ago. He had no clone or vatgrown transplant organs and no way to pay for our services. Amalgamated Meditech made a deal with him; we would bring him back to functional health if he allowed us to test out some experimental equipment."
Sounds interesting . . . "And these were?"
"The important one was a special Bio-computer Interface, BCI for short, which allowed Kyle to control a vehicle with his thoughts and reflexes alone. The vehicle, when linked to him, became part of him. The BC allows incredibly accurate vehicle control and weapon fire. A special car was built for testing; Kyle stole it as he escaped."
I began to understand what had happened on the freeway.
"The other was an advance in prosthetic limbs; the usual electric motors have been augmented with hydraulic pseudo-musculatures which are around five times as powerful as normal human muscles.
"Okay. We've got an escaped cyborg who kicks butt because of implants. There's got to be more to this. Why did he escape? Why did he want to escape?"
Doctor Talstar folded his arms tightly. "We think it's a chemical imbalance in his brain, caused by the BCI. The monowire contacts could be corroding... but the obvious symptoms are increased aggression and paranoia, and a tendency toward more animalistic behavior."
"In short, Kyle's gone off the deep end."
"Ye-e-es. But be careful; he may have lost his mind, but he hasn't lost any of his cunning. Kyle's duelling skills are anything but impaired. With the BCI and his chip reflexes, he's extremely dangerous."
The commissioner looked intense. "Kyle's been on and off a killing spree for the past month. With his skills, vehicle and brains he's virtually unstoppable. He's tenacious and he's insane. Not a good combination at all."
Ah ha. "So you want me, because of my skills, vehicle and brains, to find Kyle and stop him."
"Yes." The commissioner stood up. "Dead or alive, we want him stopped."
Before I left the hospital, the commissioner briefed me on the reports relating to Kyle and gave me stats on the car he was driving. The steel lux was armed with a blast cannon, two recoilless rifles and three spikedroppers loaded with tirecrackers. He had been following a complicated trail, hitting ammo and supply shops at random during the last three weeks, and disappearing for days at a time. Soon Kyle would have to resupply. I thought on this as I came to the station and entered the garage.
My truck - a low-slung black camper - is my pride and joy. A turbocharged 451 cid V8 waits underneath the hood while an H & S Rippler rocket pod rides shotgun in the roof turret. There's enough electronics on board to stock a small hobbyist shop. I call it "Nightfist."
The LAPD issues its own cars - don't get me wrong, the new cruisers are great vehicles - but if gas is available (and I have plenty now), I prefer to use Nightfist.
The CB crackled as I pulled out of the station garage.
"Robbery in progress at the CT 78 Uncle Al's outlet. Closest units respond."
I was nowhere near the outlet mentioned, but I knew I could get there quickly. I put the accelerator to the floor, the turbos spooled up and Nightfist roared down the freeway at nearly three times the speed limit.
The store was a disaster. Sales clerks and customers were strewn about like mannequins; the Spalltex windows were shattered and little undefinable scraps were everywhere. As the other policemen went through cleaning the mess and interviewing the witnesses, I snooped around the store. The register was still full of real and virtual money, as were the employee and customer moneycards - whoever hit this store wasn't after money. The ammunition stores were a mess; empty boxes and shells were scattered around the room. I had a strong feeling I'd know what they were short of.
I walked over to the officer who had been interviewing the witnesses.
"Detective Vincent Wells, LAPD." I said, flashing my wallet badge. "So what have you found out?"
"Witnesses claim a gray car went through the front of the store, there was a brief firefight inside, and the car left through the same breach it had entered from."
"Any clue to which way he headed?"
Damn. Well, Kyle couldn't have gotten very far in the last half-hour or so without starting a fight . . . I slid back into my truck and started cruising the streets.
Ten minutes later, my police radio buzzed.
"Vince? Commissioner Griffin here. He just hit the Hammons Ammo Stop and loaded up on personal gear. Last seen headed west."
"Got it." West. Hmmm. That would put him right about ... here.
The steel lux blasted through a red light one intersection ahead of me, heading west. Miraculously, it didn't slow to blow anyone apart. I put the pedal down and Nightfist screamed and leaped.
"This is 4D-36. I'm in pursuit."
Kyle's lux twisted and dodged through the city streets, his hyped-up chip reflexes keeping him just out of my sights. I tailed him around a corner just in time to see him crash through the front gates of AMRC #4 and watched, horrified, as the car plowed into two figures which had been sprinting for the main building. Two misshapen forms bounced over the top of the luxury as it charged on toward the AMRC garage. Driving as quickly as I could, I radioed for backup.
The lux swung around and started dropping spikes in front of the garage exit. As I entered the grounds, an early model Pisces came out from the garage, hit the spikes, and skidded right in front of Kvle. The first shot from Kyle's blast cannon tore open the Pisces' right side; the second shot blew the driver through his own left armor. And while all this happened, the side-mounted recoilless' chewed methodically at the AMRC wall.
I turned on the radio as we both squealed up to the second floor.
"Kyle, stop. It's useless."
"Squeeerrrrrrrl Make me, roscoe."
I sighted him with the turret laser. "The police are coming; you'll never get away."
"And I'm supposfzzzted to be scared?"
"Give it up. Now."
Fine. Be that way. I triggered the turret weapon and six 25mm rockets spiraled toward the luxury and hit, tearing away much of its front end. Fragments of metal and plastic showered out of the rocket blasts.
Kyle turned, bringing his fresh side armor to face me, and blasted the armored hub off my front right tire. Nighifist came after him, hailing him with rocket fire.
And drove right into his spikes again. You'd think I was capable of learning . . . The explosive spikes ripped at my tires, and Nightfist's rear end swung out, pointing me at a building. Anything, anything was better than a collision. I hit the brakes hard, and only managed to collapse the truck's front end against the wall, throwing me against the windshield.
When I looked up, Kyle was coming at the camper full-bore. I tapped the selector into reverse, and stomped the accelerator, steering hard to the left. Kyle didn't stop. He did, however, enjoy the unique experience of ramming through a ferrocrete wall at around 100 mph.
I stopped the truck, switched off the engine and listened. Suddenly, there was the thunder of automatic fire and screams, screams and more screams. What does it take to stop this guy?
Checking my 'slugger to make sure it was fully loaded, I ran through the breach Kyle's car had left. His lux was "parked" over a sofa, abandoned. I looked inside. The driver's seat was it - no HUD displays, no system controls, nothing. Apart from the thick fiberoptic cable that attached to a lump behind the bucket seat, a crash harness and a pair of simple handholds, the cockpit was empty.
Bodies were scattered across stylish furniture, and bullet holes covered the walls and ceiling. I ran out the door which Kyle had left through (it wasn't too hard to guess which one) and glanced down the hallways. An alley of corpses - some of them guards - stretched away from me towards the right. Each door in that direction was blown in. Peeking, I found each room totally ransacked, its occuoants. if anv. killed - it was like Kyle was systematically destroying everything.
More automatic fire and more screams. I sprinted down the hallway, the bullet-ridden white walls and blasted rooms flying by. I ended up at Clone Storage Room 1 72. An alarm shrieked its indignation as a rancid odor hit my nostrils.
Inside, the cyborg unselectively blasted everything. Shattered clone growth tanks spilled their contents across the floor, amnionic fluid and nutrient solutions mixing with blood and lymph. Kyle stood in the middle of the destruction, laughing and smiling.
I froze. Kyle was grotesque. Where normal pale pink skin ended, scultped hydraulic pseudomuscles continued. A fine network of tubes interlaced with the pseudomuscles and other hardware. A large black socket, surrounded by inflamed tissue, projected from his left temple. Kyle held a pair of machine guns, one in each hand. A bloodstained cowboy hat finished off the look.
He turned, bringing up the MGs. "Who the rrrrhell are you?" His body twitched when his voice caught. I brought up my gyroslugger. "Pest control." I fired both barrels.
The explosive shells snapped the machine guns in half and knocked Kyle back into another clone tank, missing one of his arms and even more skin. A cry, many decibels too loud for a normal man, rose and fell. And then he was silent.
Kyle lay absolutely still as I walked up. Purple fluid leaked from where the arm should have been. I looked closer.
The cyborg came back to life a lot faster than I expected. His remaining fist shot out, snapping my head back and loosening several teeth. I fumbled through the pain for my 'slugger, struggling to reload it. Kyle slapped me across the face, ending any thoughts of using the gun. Before I could scrabble away, the cyborg picked me up with his remaining hand, and threw me into the debris.
Kyle walked slowly towards me.
"Not so hot now, copper? Oooo. Too vzzzzx bad!"
He leaned down close. I could smell overheated hydraulic fluid and blood. My hand closed on a metal bar.
"Maybe I should kfkfrreeeeEEEEhelp you up."
I gripped the bar and swung hard, hitting him across his skull with a sharp krangl I jumped up, hit him again and ran through the nearest door.
Kyle screamed his rage, a metallic, animal scream, and I picked up my pace, burning the last of my precious adrenalin. Left, right, up some stairs, straight, right, left, up, up, right - I opened the door ahead of me and stumbled through. It was an upper-level parking garage open to the outside. I staggered over to a van and, exhausted, started to collapse across the hood when something stopped me at the last second.
There were three rocket ports, each with a small contact sensor, worked into the van's grill. If I had fallen on them
I smiled, and the smile grew wider when I heard heavy footsteps behind me.
Turning around, I watched Kyle walk out from behind a ferrocrete support. The setting sun, a blood-red circle, framed him from behind. The cyborg's one-armed shadow reached out and touched me as the scarlet twilight washed everything in dark red.
I barely had the energy to talk. Fighting was completely out.
"Hi there, Kyle. Ever consider a career in modeling?"
He walked toward me, his silhouette growing larger with each step. "I'm gonna enjoy tearin' ya zzzzrowllll apart all slow-like, roscoe."
"If you can catch me."
He charged, his voice a distorted cry of pure hate. At the last second, I fell and rolled under the van's front end, and Kyle hit the triggers head on. A terrible explosion echoed through the building as his half-destroyed body flew across the garage and off the side of the building.
I walked across to the edge of the garage and looked down. Four stories below me lay the remains of the cyborg: bits and pieces of metal, plastic, flesh and bone.
"See you later, Kyle."