Downfall, by Elizabeth Prybylski
“What did you say to me, asshole?”
Despite being pinned up against the dirty concrete wall by her cybernetic arm, the drug dealer had a remarkable mouth on him. At any other time she might have been willing to overlook it, but today was not that day.
“S-said that y-you’re a filthy p-pig. And that I d-don’t know where he is.” The scrawny, greasy little man tried to spit at her, but Maia grabbed him by the lower jaw before he could do more than rear his head back.
“See, what I heard, and I could be wrong, was ‘No, officer. I’m sorry I can’t help you,’” she said pleasantly. Maia kept the smile plastered across her face as she stared the man down. “And if that’s the case I guess I’ll have to settle for a drug bust. You’re under arrest, jackass.”
From behind her, Maia heard her temporary partner clearing his throat in a poorly-disguised attempt to conceal a laugh. “You need a hand?” To his credit, he kept his tone even. When she was in a mood most of the department knew to keep their distance, and with her partner in the hospital her temper was on a razor’s edge.
“Yeah. Cuff him, would you? I need to radio in.” Maia waited until the rookie had a handle on the drug dealer before she walked over to their transport and sat down in the driver’s seat. While the slang for reporting to the precinct was still ‘radioing in’ their standard issue communication devices were nothing resembling a radio. Pressing the button on the console, she touched her badge to the reader.
The polite, female voice of the computer filled the cockpit of the transport. “Hello, Detective Thompson. How may I assist you?”
“I’ve got a 10-32 to bring in.”
“The data has been added to your log and will be updated shortly. Is there anything else I may do for you?”
Running her hand over her dark, short-cropped hair, Maia sighed, knowing she’d regret asking. “Any update on the status of Detective Asher Montgomery?”
“Just a moment, please.” Outside, Maia could hear the rookie reading the drug dealer his rights. Some part of her wanted to remind him that they didn’t need to do that unless they were interrogating the guy, but it bought her a moment alone, so she let him. “Detective Montgomery is still in critical condition. No further updates have been posted.”
“Thanks. That’s all.”
“Have a great day!” The connection went dead, and Maia let out a slow breath. Her partner, Asher, had been shot in a drug bust the day before. It had taken all her persuasive skills along with her history on the force to get her captain to let her stay on the case. It was personal, but she’d also been working this case for three years, and they’d only just started getting real evidence about the hydrophine that had been making its way onto the streets.
The rookie, whose badge identified him as Officer Robbins, opened the sliding door of the transport. The dealer, whose name she hadn’t bothered to take, was still cussing. Or so she assumed because the expression on his face was murderous, and his mouth was moving. Officer Robbins rolled his eyes and closed the door. Not for the first time, Maia was glad for the sound dampening in the cockpit.
A moment later, Robbins flopped into the seat beside her in the cockpit, a relieved expression on his young face. “Are they always like that?” he asked, staring out the front window while Maia powered up the engine.
“Pretty much.” Maia nodded, shifting the transport into drive. While she could’ve used the autopilot, she preferred to handle things herself; the autopilot also left her with too much time to think.
The hospital was cold in every capacity. Maia considered, not for the first time, heading home. Asher didn’t know she was there, the doctors told her, and she hated it. At the same time, she felt wrong abandoning him. The bed’s display flickered at her, showing that his heart rate held steady and his vital signs were decent.
Despite the sea of holo-flowers and well wishes, the room felt harsh and stark around her, like the walls were closing in. For the millionth time that night, Maia’s eyes slid over her partner’s face. The shot had entered just below his left cheekbone, shattering the skull and ripping holes in his brain. While the surgical staff had managed to replace most of the important pieces there was no telling if he’d be the same person if he woke up. When he woke up.
Looking down at her fingers, she turned the rose she’d brought over and over. It wasn’t as extravagant as the holo-flowers the precinct had sent, but it was real. A cybernurse slid into the room, its tracks gliding over the floor as it plugged into the base of the bed. The holo-screen flickered, displaying a nurse’s face. “Hello. How are you?” it asked. “Can I get you anything?”
There was a clunk, a clink, and a glass of water slid out of the port, held in robotic fingers. Maia accepted it and placed the rose in the water before setting the glass on the bedside table.
“I’m sorry, that is unauthorized,” the nurse’s saccharine voice reached her ears.
Frowning, Maia left the glass there. “It’s a flower.”
“All organic matter is unauthorized as a gift. Please dispose of it appropriately.”
The nurse slid out of the room again, leaving them alone. Maia pulled the flower free and scowled at it. It was just a damn flower. It wouldn’t hurt anyone. Leaving the water alone, she slid it into Asher’s fingers. “Here. They’ll probably take it from you but… Figured this was better than the damn holo-flowers. It’s sort of wimpy, I guess, but it’s better than the fake shit. I’ve… I’ve got to get going. Get your ass better, Asher.”
With no small amount of regret, Maia rose to her feet and left the room.
The interrogation room was not her favorite place to spend a Saturday afternoon. In fact, it wasn’t her favorite place to spend any afternoon.
The drug dealer, whose name was Jared Carrol, hunkered in the chair in front of her with his eyes fixed firmly on the metal-and-glass table between them. The table’s internal screen system displayed pictures of dead clients of his on loop, ending with the bloody mess that was her partner.
It had been a week since Asher went down, and there were still no signs he’d wake up anytime soon. His mind seemed to be rejecting the cyberware they’d implanted to replace the damaged portions of his brain. “This is your fault.” Maia said, enlarging a photo of one of the people who died of an overdose.
The photo was of a young woman who had probably once been pretty. Her lank, blond hair hung over her bruised face, and her sunken eyes stared into emptiness with her mouth frozen in a silent scream. Her body was so thin it was almost impossible to tell sex without looking at the genitals, which were covered by the comforter of the bed she’d been sitting on when she was found. “You did this to them.”
“N-no, man. I didn’t do none of that. They did it to themselves!” Jared choked, trying to tear his eyes off the screen. “I just gave them their shit.”
“If they didn’t get it from me they would’ve gotten it somewhere else. That cop man, he was a regular. Not my fault he asked th–”
He didn’t even have time to choke out a shriek before Maia had his face planted on the table, “That cop is my partner, asswipe, and he was clean.” The cybernetic enhancements in her right arm bore down, applying pressure to his skull. With no effort she could pop his head like a grape, and he’d never sell his shit again. The thought lingered in her mind as she forced herself to let him go.
“You’re fucking crazy!” Jared’s eyes were wide as he rocked himself back and away from her so violently he knocked himself out of the chair. “That’s gotta be against the law or some shit…” he said, looking up at the security camera like it would help him. It didn’t.
It should have been raining. The day of the funeral was as bright as any other day that summer. The sky was cloudless, and the breeze rustled the leaves of the trees surrounding the cemetery. They were all fake, of course, but the effect was still nice.
Asher’s grave was covered in fresh earth, and the headstone bore the usual information. Born. Died. Line of duty. Loving this, that, and the other thing. Maia stared at it numbly. The drug dealer hadn’t been lying after all. The reason Asher’s brain rejected the implants was because he’d been taking the hydrophine Jared had been selling. The bullet started it, but with his immune system broken by the drug he didn’t stand a chance.
“What the hell, you bastard?” Maia asked for what felt like the thousandth time. “Why didn’t you just talk to me? We could’ve worked that shit out.” She dropped down onto her knees, ignoring the dirt staining her dress uniform. On the tombstone, the hologram of her partner’s face had no answers. It smiled at her brilliantly, winking every so often in that damn cocky way he always had.
Maia set the rose down on the tombstone amongst the rest of the holo-flowers.
One of the many attendants scurried up behind her, frowning, “I’m sorry, miss, but real flowers aren’t—” The man – they preferred humans for jobs requiring real empathy – had a nervous, apologetic look on his face. It didn’t placate her. Maia stared at him coldly, her eyes narrowed.
The man swallowed convulsively and retreated as fast as he’d come, leaving her alone again. Maia’s vision blurred a little, and she stared at the headstone again. “Well… I’ve got work to do, Asher. Got a rookie to train. Won’t be the same as having you at my back, but… Dammit. Just… just dammit.” She got to her feet, shaking her head and turning toward the exit where her bike was waiting.