This week’s Flash Fiction is inspired by concept artist Jiwook Lee’s Busted. This piece has a cyberpunk element that gives me feels toward Akira, Blade Runner and even Riddick. Find Jiwook’s work here, at ArtStation.com.
Tsukiko wrinkled her nose against the harsh odors of rotting trash. The deep rumble of her gravlev cycle echoed in her ears and the bike vibrated between her knees. Red and blue lights flashed from the other end of the alley, competing against the brilliant neon letters and holo images from the nearby buildings. Despite the alley’s stench, she sucked in a deep lungful of air.
Not now. This can’t happen now. I’m too close.
“New Tokyo Police. Please disengage and step away from the gravlev cycle for inspection.” The voice that filled her ears was decidedly not robotic. About a dozen meters away, four vaguely human-shaped copdrones stood, their gauss rifles aimed right at her.
A knot formed in her stomach and she tightened her grip on the throttle. The bipedal drones might be piloted by humans safe in their remote facility, but the machines had their own self-defense AI triggers. If she so much as twitched in their direction, the algorithms would kick in and gauss her ass full of holes faster than she could blink.
What do I do, Tsuneo? I’m so close to getting you out from under Zinchenkovich’s thumb.
She felt the ridged texture of the handle grips through her gloves. Whatever she did, it had to be soon, the drone pilots could escalate the situation any second.
Tsukiko held her hands up in a sign of surrender. The sound of her own pulsing heartbeat thundered in her ears. Without shutting off her bike, she hoped her capitulation would confuse them. She needed time to think. When the bots didn’t move, she knew she had at least gained a few seconds.
Options flashed through her mind. She could surrender, but at sixteen with a dozen credit chips in her pocket each with a value over twenty-thousand, she’d be tossed into jail for the rest of her life. Zinchencovich wouldn’t lift a finger to help her or even acknowledge she existed. He’d say he never even heard of her. Tsuneo would be useless as leverage if she was in jail. He’d be sent off to the Zinchencovich’s pit-fighting arena’s again. Hell, Zinchencovich might even kill him outright out of spite.
She could fight. She was good enough with her mono-blade to take down four bots, but she’d have to be at close range for that. And it wasn’t really hurting anyone, they’re just drone bots. But, no, they were too far away.
That only left choice. She had to run. But, that brought her back to the drones’ self-defense algorithms. How could she get away without going forward? Gravlev cycles only thrust forward and up.
Then it hit her.
Words echoed her ears again. “Sir, please turn off the engine and step away from the cycle.”
One of the bots stepped forward. A trickle of sweat ran down her back. Tsukiko couldn’t hear it over the rumbling engine, but she knew the unnerving, dull chik-chik-chik of their steel legs on asphalt.
She patted at the air and started to lower her hands.
The drone stopped.
Tsukiko let her right hand drift down to the throttle and wrapped her fingers around the rubber grip. With her other hand, she tapped the cut-off button, and the violet light coming from the gravpads faded. Her cycle settled down onto the ground. The knot in her stomach tightened.
Her eyes closed for just a little longer than a normal blink. She’d seen Net videos of people doing what she was about to attempt, but those were on lighter cycles designed for pulling tricks. If she screwed up, she stood a really good chance of being crushed or being severely perforated.
She could do this. She had to do this.
The two flanking copdrones lowered their weapons and inched forward. Chik-chik-chik-chik. The squad leader—the drone that had stepped forward before— spoke again. “Step away from the cycle.”
She nodded, but she did not get off the bike. Just another second and…The two approaching drones made it to the halfway mark.
Tsukiko slapped the ignition button. Grabbing the handlebars with both hands, she wrenched the throttle and pulled back with everything she had. The bike roared to life. A brilliant purple flash filled the alley as she shot up and away from the copdrones.
The two center drones fired. Ripples formed in the air as their hypersonic rounds created shockwaves along their paths. Paths that came straight at her… then curved down into the asphalt, deflected by the cycle’s gravlev field.
Up, over the edge of the building that had been behind her, Tsukiko yanked to her right. The world twisted as she and the bike turned. Righting the bike, she looked down and her stomach leaped into her throat. She was easily thirty feet over the roof of the building.
More gauss rounds flew by over her head as she dropped. The hail of rounds vanished as soon as she dropped out of their line of sight. That wouldn’t last long, the drones would start chasing her.
She was faster, though. If she could just get down to street level again.
The roof of the building raced up to meet her. She braced herself, opening the throttle at the last second. The sudden burst of energy into the gravlev field cushioned her fall, but not quite enough. Metal scraped as the gravpads gouged into the gravel covered roof.
Tsukiko banked hard to her left to avoid hitting an air conditioner then pulled back on the handles. The bike lifted up and over the two-foot wall around the outer edge of the roof.
Her eyes went wide. “Shit!” Below, only a street cart packed with melons was available to break her fall. Not that she had much of a choice.
“Move!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. The cart vendor looked up just in time to jump out of the way.
The cart and its melons exploded in a hail of wooden and fruit shrapnel as Tsukiko’s bike smashed down onto its roof. Again, she gunned the engine at the last second, again the gravpads ground hard against the asphalt. Sparks flew out behind her until the bike rose back up off the asphalt.
Tsukiko leveled the bike out and turned down another alley. She had to keep off the main streets and out of the view of the millions of security cameras. It took a few turns before she figured out exactly where she was. Once she did, though, she mentally plotted her course.
Tapping a button on her console, an augmented reality map appeared in the top left corner of her visor. A small, green dot raced along through the New Tokyo alleys, indicating her own position. Less than a quarter mile back, four red dots wove their way after her. The copdrones.
She only had to make it two miles.
Tsukiko did her best to stay one step ahead of the drones, always making a turn to stay out of their line of sight. Eventually, she whipped around a corner and came face to face with the power relay station. And just a hundred feet up was the alcove between three junction boxes she was looking for. The alcove opened away from the street, protecting whoever hid there from prying eyes. The real benefit, though, was that the junction boxes created a field of interference that would hide her from any scanners.
On her map, the drones made their way closer. In seconds they would see her. Even though she had a straight shot, she wasn’t sure if she’d make it.
One more time, she cranked the throttle. Her bike shot forward. Tsukiko swung wide and banked even harder, slingshotting herself into the power plant. She slammed on the breaks and flipped around. As if she’d been doing it all her life, her bike settled into the narrow alcove.
Tsukiko glanced at her map, but saw just blurry static. The junction boxes blocked her readings too. With a nod to herself, she cut the engine and hopped off the bike.
Void of her bike engine’s roar, her ears filled with the deep, electric hum of the junction boxes and a near-deafening whine. Her breaths came in labored gasps. Bile rose up in her throat, but she swallowed it down.
Several seconds passed, every one of them pulling at her to peek around the corner. But she knew better. She leaned back against the metal wall of the junction box and closed her eyes.
Chik-chik-chik-chik… Her heart threatened to burst out of her chest, it pounded so hard. The copdrones approached from down the street. Chik-chik-chik-chik… Sweat poured down her back and soaked her underclothes. Chik-chik-chik-chik… Her breath caught in her chest, held there waiting to see if they would find her.
Chik-chik-chik-chik… And the steps started to fade.
Air burst out of Tsukiko’s mouth and she sucked in another massive breath. Her chest heaved for several minutes before she was finally able to relax.
Tsukiko closed her eyes. She needed to stay put for just a few minutes to make sure they were completely gone. But then… Then, she’d go back to Zinchenovich’s, give him his goods and get her brother away from those monsters. That’s what she’d do. And if they didn’t let her have him back… Well, then all hell would break loose.