“Only Time Will Tell”
By Rachael Ritchey
June glanced at her watch. The analog hands pointed opposite directions. She tapped the glass and frowned. “Three forty-five. Fifteen minutes until–” She gasped.
Glancing left and right, June stepped out in the road and dashed to the far sidewalk. Cars rushed by, alarm-sensors blaring, but if she didn’t hurry she’d be too late. This could not happen… again.
Tall buildings thrust toward the sky with giant one-way digital billboards filling their windowed surfaces. June ignored her face flashing on the screens and the scrolling text alerting the public to her presence: WANTED. JUNE SILVERTON. DANGEROUS. USE CAUTION. SUSPECT IS 5’ 8” TALL. BROWN HAIR. LAST SEEN WEARING BLACK BLAZER, RED PANTS. CITIZEN ARREST AUTHORIZED.
The only good news was she’d lost the blazer. There was no helping the pants, but at least red was in fashion, so she wasn’t the only brunette running around the city wearing red on her legs. It didn’t stop random strangers she ran past from staring openly, some with horror on their faces. But it was the ones that tapped their temples and started waving their arms in frantic gestures while staring at her that worried June the most. She grimaced. Retinal cameras had become the new Big Brother of her world.
An android with the new AI upgrades stepped in her path. “Halt citizen 459-00-5555.” June’s face flashed on the screen built into its metallic chest. She skidded to a halt and gazed frantically around for her best escape route. The robot reached out with clunky arms and fingered hands to grab her arm. “You are under arrest. You have—”
“Screw you!” she yelled and side-stepped the annoying tech. Robots hadn’t yet advanced enough to be quick to judge people’s motives or moves, but after this, she was sure this little trick of hers would make its way into the general AI self-programming upgrades.
She jumped into the street and centered herself on the dotted line between lanes, praying there was enough space to keep her from getting ripped to shreds by passing vehicles. Screams of bystanders drifted and melded with the whiz of cars on the road.
The android stepped out behind her without checking traffic. A self-driving taxi slammed into it and blasted the robot to pieces, spraying sharp bits of metal and electronics everywhere in a rain of shrapnel before coming to a quick halt.
All traffic stopped around June, and she used the opportunity to escape across the street, down an alley where she hoped the cameras were minimal. Pulling up her shirtsleeve, the glare of the time on her watch sent her already racing heart into triple time. Three fifty-two. There wasn’t enough time.
“Gah!” She had to intercept that train.
She exited the alley on the other end and could see the entrance to the subway. It was still too far. Reluctantly, June reached into her pocket, still running toward the gaping archway leading into the city depths. She gripped the remote in her hand and prayed she wasn’t too late for Plan B.
Finger on button, a battering ram—no, a man—slammed into her, the black device flying from her fingers and skidding across the open plaza. June slammed to her hands and knees, the shock of it vibrating through her bones. She looked up to see the brute who’d knocked her down with his foot hovering over her remote… the last best chance… the one solution she was loath to use but had no choice.
“June, June, June. You cannot stop this. You failed before in Los Angeles. You will fail in New York.”
Panting on her hands and knees, adrenaline ebbing from her body, she watched him toe the remote. “You’re wrong, Boniface.”
But she knew he was right. There was less than five minutes, and he had her last resort under foot. Any longer and hundreds of people would die. If he and his cronies kept her from even that, hundreds of thousands would. She’d wanted to avoid both. No one had to die.
With a start, she remembered that stupid gift her old partner had given her for her birthday. The thing he made her promise she’d keep on her even if she refused to use it. “Thank you, Benny,” she mumbled and sat back on her heels.
Boniface stood to his full height and lifted his foot. June smiled and watched a wisp of hesitation slip across his face. She raised her hand, the ring on her middle finger glittering with the faux diamond at its core. With the falsely innocuous object aimed at Boniface, she pressed the gem and released it with a click.
His eyes went wide, and he moved his foot downward, but all too late to stop it. From the end of the ring, a blast of electricity shot, hitting him in the chest and wrapping his body in jolts of lightning. Off balance, he fell backward, his entire body seizing with the energy coursing through him.
June scrambled forward and picked up the remote. Holding it tight to her chest, she glanced at her watch. Three fifty-nine. With a sigh of relief, she hit the button. A distant explosion buried underneath the city vibrated through the ground. She could feel it in her throbbing knees and watched the shocked people milling about her tremble with the shaking earth.
It wasn’t how she wanted to stop the organization Boniface worked for, and she hadn’t stopped them permanently, but at least they couldn’t rain down their special brand of terror on this city. Not today. And if she had anything to do with it, not ever.
Another AI-upgrade approached her where she sat on the ground. “June Silverton. You are under arrest. You have the right—”
“Hold. AI Protocol 2-4-Zed-Alpha-9. Back down,” a man’s voice rang from behind June.
She glanced up and back to see her former partner rushing forward with a group of uniformed SWAT members. His detective badge swung around his neck. At least the force hadn’t upgraded that shield of gleaming steel. She grinned and took his outstretched hand, pulling her to her feet.
“About time, Ben.”
“What can I say? I’m always last to the party.”
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