“Damn, Tasha, you really are the finest hacker in the whole Fed. Why are you stuck in lockdown, in New Haven?” I subvocalise, while the lift makes its interminable trek to the rooftop hanger.
Tasha pings back, “You know nobody gets out of lockdown. That’s why the Corps needed Antibodies in the first place – to enforce them and stop us plebs from getting out into the Gardens.”
“Surely though, with your skills, you could mortgage yourself to one of the Corps, pay your passage over time?”
“Nah, I ain’t nobody’s slave. A free spirit like me can’t be chained down for a 50 year contract. I’ll take my chances with the gangs and the Covid.”
The lift pings and a suited man with dark glasses steps in. He eyes me nervously. The lift continues its journey upwards.
Tasha pings again, “Speak of the devil. Hold up, there’s someone at my door.”
The suited man leaves at the 55th floor. Eventually, the lift reaches the roof. I step out into a large hanger, where there are 14 Antibodies lined up and gleaming.
How ironic that these instruments of tyranny will be my pathway to freedom. Antibodies were developed to keep people like me down and in my place. To keep police officers physically separated from those they were apprehending, in the rough lockdown districts like New Haven. But over time, as those in the safe, Covid-free Gardens accumulated more wealth, more power and more fear, the Antibodies got bigger and more heavily armoured. They morphed from police to military to mercenary. As the virus tore through places like New Haven, mutating along the way, nations eventually stopped trying to fight Covid. Those in the lockdown districts got by however they could, and the Antibodies made sure that those in the Gardens were insulated from contact with them. With lethal force, where necessary.
But now, Antibody XAEA-12 is my ticket to freedom. I just need to steal it, punch in the access code, and flee to the NES. I gaze up at the line of Antibodies, each two or three stories tall above the top of this skyscraper. At the end of the line, name stencilled in steel above the cockpit, is XAEA-12. Tasha chose well – it’s a chunky model with squat legs and oversized cannons for arms.
I take cover behind a tool storage locker and survey the area. Between me and my Antibody are a team of mechanics, currently performing maintenance on the Lord’s Katana, charred black in a berth between me and the XAEA-12. They won’t let me just walk into an Antibody and stomp away. Even if I can get into the XAEA-12, this building is seventy stories tall, and the VTOL landing pad on the far side isn’t any good to me without my own airlift.
I need a distraction. I subvocalise to Tasha, and enquire if she can provide one.
No answer. She must still be busy.
Without the Fed’s finest hacker, I’ll have to make do. I slink across and take cover behind the towering leg of the closest Antibody, watching the mechanics scurry around. I pull out my datapad, hook it into the diagnostic port and punch up a codebreaker to try and break in.
As my program works away, I see two people exit the lift, assault rifles in hand, clad in the pastel blue fatigues of security. One appears to be the over-muscled brute, Trent, from the security compound. The other is a lithe woman with a cold glare and a mechanical arm. They scan the area, but have not yet spotted me in my hiding place.
The datapad pings. I’m in. The Loyal Subject is fully functional, and equipped with twin rocket launchers, one on each arm. I tap the Test Fire button.
Two rockets fly free from the Loyal Subject, slamming into the opposite Antibody with two huge explosions. Shrapnel flies free from the armour of the other Antibody, but it still stands.
Many of the mechanics scream, and run for cover wherever they can find it. The two security guards are unmoved, and scuttle over towards me.
I break off along the line of Antibodies, sprinting, ducking and weaving amidst their steel legs. The mechanics are too preoccupied with the explosions to pay me any heed. I reach the last Antibody, the XAEA-12, and duck behind its leg. The two security guards are moving toward me, but with the careful pace of the uneasy. I hit the Cockpit Access button, and a ladder drops down beside me. A very old fashioned way to reach the peak of technological development.