There were five of them that I could see. They had pulled up across the end of the street in a ground effect vehicle, leaving it slewed across the intersection to block traffic out of the cul-de-sac. Four of them were working their way down the street towards the cafe seating area where I was finishing a coffee and sandwich. The fifth was waiting at the vehicle radiating that particular combination of alert and disinterested which shows one is in fact keeping a close watch on the entirety of their surroundings. The four were moving down the street in pairs, stopping every person they reached and not letting them past towards the mouth of the cul-de-sac until they had presented the inside of their right wrist to a reader wielded by one of each pair. The other two were dividing their attention between their subjects and a handheld device of some sort.

The problem was the handhelds. The chiplant readers looked standard, and the Tzun had (so far) had no problem spoofing them by sending back a suitably doctored signal whenever one had been waved over my (chipless) wrist. In every case, the reader had been satisfied. The handhelds, though, looked like weapon scanners. Energy weapons were illegal to carry on Terzifon without permit, and even in its current state, the Tzun was most definitely an energy weapon.

I took another drink of coffee and watched the four agents approaching the cafe. They were perhaps twenty meters away, and would have to process something like forty people before reaching the restaurant.

What? asked the Tzun on vibe. It was folded down into a standard handgun form factor, holstered inside my light jacket near my left ribs for right-hand draw. In the smaller form, it wasn't able to expose any scanners which could conceivably penetrate my jacket or indeed 'see' anything other than in a narrow conical field of view extending out from its barrel. As a result, it was more dependent than usual on my keeping it informed of events, which naturally made it cranky.

Creds check, I subvocalized. Four approaching, one on perimeter at the alley mouth. Two pairs, each with chiplant reader-

Not a problem, the Tzun snorted.

-and each with handheld weapons scanner, I finished, somewhat drily.

Oh. That's a problem, said the gun in a more thoughtful tone. I can't fool a weapons scanner in this configuration, and unfolding would light up on regional scanners instantly.

I took a bite of sandwich. The agents had processed another six or so citizens. I know.

What are you going to do?

I finished the sandwich in two more bites and stood up. You're not going to like it.


I slid out from in front of my chair and bent to collect my trash from the tabletop. As I did so, I slid the Tzun out from under my jacket into my palm, not in firing position, and concealed it with the wrappers and cup I was holding as I moved towards the exit. As I passed, I dumped the gun and the waste into a trash receptacle and moved away.

What are you doing? the gun asked grimly.

There's a chance I can get out of this, I replied. But not if I'm found carrying you. They'll find you and take you in, and I'll have to get you back, but I'll be free to do that. If they don't find you, it'll be even easier. I was out of the cafe's seating area, heading towards the alley mouth. Ground traffic was passing intermittently behind the blocking car.

If you don't have me, how will you communicate with the Override?

I'm working on it. Shut up, I'm getting too close to the scanners. Don't let anyone do anything, etcetera.

Locking down, said the Tzun. There was a slight tone from my comm implant as its carrier was lost.

I felt incredibly alone.

But there wasn't time; I was now mere meters from the checkpoint. There were five people waiting to be read and scanned; I queued up, thinking hard. Two agents on this side of the street. The other two across the way would only be a factor in pursuit; they were too far to be involved earlier, assuming I managed to pass the two in front of me. The fifth one, at the car, would be a problem. From what I had seen of the security forces on Terzifon, they were rigidly trained. In this situation, the fifth agent's task would be to ready the hovercar for pursuit rather than try to stop me on his own if I managed to break past two of his colleagues, unless I made it past without engaging them in which case he would assume that I was a lower threat and fleeing.

Therefore I would have to engage the two closest to me. That would leave two in pursuit and one moving back into the hovercar. The two on foot would pursue on foot while the driver followed and coordinated the chase, calling for reinforcements.

Another person was cleared and walked off towards the alley mouth.

I hadn't been in hand-to-hand combat in a long time. Carrying an Uplifted-class personal weapon makes it a least-preferred option. But I was still in good shape, and practiced regularly if infrequently on the Interrupt against training holos. The feeling of icewater on my spine as my adrenal gland fired up triggered memories, and I fought them down, concentrating on the here and now.

Terzifon was a relatively open world, but maintaining public safety in a society with a spacefaring tech level is not easy. Too much potential energy is available to too many people, and the security forces had naturally compensated by clamping down on high-tech weapons or analogues. The society itself had come to accept draconian measures to prevent internecine violence, especially as Terzifon had been more successful than other planets at ensuring the enforcement activity was limited to weapons and violent crime due to their acceptance of Uplifted assistance. Thus the calm acceptance of the citizens around me as they were scanned and read.

Likely, then, that open resistance would come as some slight surprise. That might buy me a small slice of time. But not much, and there weren't any good options in the neighborhood. The intersection was a T-junction. I was at least a kilometer from the nearest rapid transit station, not that that would help much given the number of scanners within the system. The local population density wasn't that high. Shops lined the main street both ways from the intersection; at the first sign of a disturbance, Security would lock down their entryways remotely.

Another two people cleared. Two to go.

There just weren't any places to hide.

So I made my choice and when the couple in front of me walked away, I smiled helpfully and approached the man with the reader with my wrist turned up but as I got within a half meter and his eyes dropped from my face to my hand in order to aim the reader I swung my arm up and extended my elbow, my fingers moving out flat and stiffening, sinking their tips into his throat. His partner looked up from his useless scanner and reached reflexively for my other arm, my right arm, but it was reaching past his head and cupping as I turned to the right, letting the first one fall clutching at his throat, then I was pulling the second one's head in and down to meet my own forehead, slightly off, a few degrees, but still hearing the crunch of cartilage as the bridge of his nose met my skull. No time. Rolling left and sliding between the two of them as the shouts started, into the run, heading for the left-hand corner. I caught a quick glimpse of the other two agents across the street turning to see what the disturbance was, and then I got what I was waiting for as the fifth man jerked into motion heading towards me but I saw his right hand come down on the back corner of the car, telegraphing his intent to turn around its rear and make for the driver's position opposite, so I reversed my angle away from the corner and just as he was pausing to open the driver's door I slapped the car's roof with my palms and vaulted over. He looked up, just with his eyes, surprise in them, and then my feet hit him just over the breastbone and he flew backwards onto the pavement.

Screams behind me and from the right side but no time so I recovered, falling into a crouch, then leapt right into the car, pulling the door shut behind me and hoping against hope that its controls were similar to the others I'd seen here on this planetfall. They were. My right hand slapped the enable pad on the center of the dash and my left foot found the throttle, the car was still live as I had thought, there was a half-second's delay in which I saw the other two agents sprinting towards the other side of the vehicle before the fans, at speed but with their pitch flattened, twisted their blades and air began to scream through the ducts and the car leapt off the ground into forward motion.

I was wrestling with the unfamiliar sidestick controller, used to having the Tzun simply co-opt vehicle autopilots, but no such luck here. The left front corner rode up onto the walkway and smashed obliquely into a shopfront window, no pedestrians there fortunately, and the car rebounded back into the center of the avenue before I brought it to heel. Then I was accelerating down the lane and just as I began to spare time to survey my surroundings there were two loud flat CRACK noises and the rear window crazed into a dark smoky ruin, but the minimal armoring did its job and nothing made it into the cabin.

Sudden flickering image of two slower-moving vehicles passing each other ahead, one moving towards me and one away, and without giving myself time to think about it I jerked the sidestick and kicked savagely at the throttles and the car shuddered up onto its right side, perhaps thirty or forty degrees, and I felt a quick jerk as something made contact but then I was through and the road was clear, so I let the car fall back to the left and buried the fan throttles to avoid it pancaking on the left side. There was a sharp jolt and scrape, then the car's systems managed to pull it level again and the road was flashing by on both sides now, putting distance between me and the five men who'd been sent somehow to find me, and of course between me and the Tzun.

* * *

Terzifon's capitol city was named Landfall-In-The-Lea, generally shortened to Landfall. I was still within it, but some fifteen klicks from the cafe. I'd abandoned the car as soon as was practical; it was guaranteed that the security forces had some means of tracking it. I'd left it next to a transit station entrance before jogging a kilometer or so and then taking a public slidewalk another two or three klicks. After leaving the slidewalk loop, I'd walked for a time, then caught a transport shuttle from a large hotel I'd seen at the port. Not wanting to actually re-enter the port yet, I'd hopped off it four stops later and some ten klicks in the direction of the port but still within Landfall.

Any reasonably intelligent security agent would realize that if I had gone to this much trouble to avoid being read for a chiplant, I probably wouldn't have been able to use the transit system without a hard pass. Hard pass use triggered surveillance imaging. Ergo, it was likely they'd realize I hadn't taken the transit system, but I estimated I had as much as thirty minutes before the search grid was expanded to cover the area I had reached.

I'd washed my hair in hot water in a public restroom, which activated the thermal dye in it; it was now a bright but within natural range red rather than its usual dark brown. I'd abandoned the Tzun's empty holster into a passing refuse truck; it had no systems in it and was merely a synthetic pouch. Coupled with a few new items of clothing and some discreet lifts in my new boots, I was only somewhat recognizable, although I didn't intend to rely on that for long.

My primary goals had been achieved before the scan team had run across me. At present, my only goal was to get the hell off the planet. Unfortunately, there were only two active liftports on Terzifon which boasted commercial travel to the High Port in orbit, and that travel was fairly infrequent. Indigenous-tech shuttles carried a small number of rich or important passengers to and from the Port, and a smaller number of interstellar travellers down to Terzifon. There wasn't much traffic from other systems - the Uplifted certainly carried passengers, but not that many of them, and generally only those they were very confident harbored no ill will. Such was the Edict.

The Interrupt would receive messages sent to the High Port, addressed to a non-existent name - there were a good fifty or sixty thousand people living and working on the High Port - but there wasn't much the Override or Tio could do for me. With Uplifted active in the system, the Override and I had agreed that it shouldn't perform any sort of intrusive action within Terzifon's datasphere. Tio wasn't able to move around, and the planetary traffic control system (let alone any early warning systems) were more than capable of picking up the drop shuttle.

I had to get to the High Port. Which meant I'd need to retrieve the Tzun, because my insistence on not accepting a false chiplant now meant I was easily marked out as an offworlder and unable to use most local services without giving myself away.

Sitting in another cafe, I sipped from a large mug of local tea and sat back, thinking. I'd been a P&P (Penetration and Punitive agent) for the Uplifted for over fifteen years. I was used to the feeling of sitting alone in the middle of an entire civilization that wished me ill, and vice versa - but I was used to having the Tzun with me. It had been with me since I was a child, and only a handful of times had we been separated.

I had the vibe, the bone-conduction implant in my jaw linked to the Tzun's gunframe, but the range of that link was short - a few hundred meters at most. I'd have to get within a couple of hundred meters to be able to contact and locate it - probably a hundred meters or so if it was indoors. If it was inside shielding, all bets were off - and while I knew it could do a truly incredible job of pretending to be a simple dumb hand weapon, security types were suspicious bastards. Even if none of the local Uplifted managed to figure it out and clue them in that the Tzun wasn't what it seemed, they might stick it in a shielded locker just out of procedure.

I had maybe twenty minutes before I could expect the search perimeter to pass me. They might recognize me or they might not - but I still didn't have a chiplant. That meant there was really only one way to go.

I finished my tea, stood, and left the cafe.


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