Memory

The house was dark and quiet. It was supposed to be this way, and Derek expected it. But tonight, for some reason, it bothered him. He entered the bedroom and slowed his steps. He wanted to be as quiet as he could be. He stripped off his shirt and threw it toward the bathroom door. He was more gentle with his slacks, afraid that the belt buckle might awaken his wife. Susan was asleep already, under the covers. The sheet rose and fell slowly in time with her light breathing. Her hair was all of her that he could see from his side of the bed. In the dark it was just a different shade of shadow, but he knew from long familiarity that it was chestnut. He slid under the covers and laid on his back, eyes wide open toward the ceiling. His muscles were sore. His body ached. But it was something else keeping him awake. He’d found nanites again. That wasn’t surprising. It was, after all, what he went looking for night after night. There was a thrill to answering the call for citizen assistance, to feeling the nanites incase him in a suit of malleable armor, to fighting for justice and rescuing the helpless. There was a thrill to the Nanites that he couldn’t shake.

But tonight, there had been a girl. The scene flashed behind his eyes. A girl with chestnut hair. She had been young. She might have been pretty, but he’d arrived too late to know that. The blood splashed across his vision and he flinched without thinking, causing his wife to mumble in her sleep and pull the blankets tighter. It was always hard when he arrived too late. He rolled toward his wife and put an arm around her, pressing his face against her dark chestnut hair. He was glad he hadn’t been too late for her.

***

The Nanites had been in effect in the city for nearly six weeks and the addiction had already captured Derek Daniels. It was nearly 3 in the morning, according to his watch, but the coming day was Saturday. He was nearly ready to give up for the night. It seemed the criminals were finally starting to curtail their activities in the wake of the Nanite Assisted Citizen Police. He’d give it a few more minutes before heading back to his car. And then, there was a loud growl that demanded his immediate attention. He rubbed his stomach and looked around the dark street. There were no restaurants open at this hour of the night, especially in this part of town.

“Nanites, Map up, plea-” Derek chuckled at himself as he caught himself asking for the projected map that he usually had available when in Nanite armor. He’d have to watch that. A lot more things were available to him when in armor than when not. “I think there’s a Wal-mart not far.” He took the next left and headed toward where he thought the 24-hour Superstore should be.

“Citizen, your city is in need of your assistance. Are you willing to offer your aid?” The voice in his head put a smile on Derek’s face. And to think, he’d been about to give up for the night.

“Yes, I am willing! What’s the emergency?” Derek stood still and eagerly awaited the Nanite armor to form around him.

“A local merchant is being robbed. The business is currently open and there are employees and customers inside. Your first priority is the safety of the civilians.” The air around Derek thickened as he stood under the flickering light of a dented lamppost. “Your second priority is to prevent money or goods being stolen.” Derek listened to the instructions, though he was growing familiar with them by now. Every once in a while, there was something new and he didn’t want to miss anything. The tangible cloud of dust around him clung to his jeans and clamped his shirt tight around his chest. “Your third priority is to apprehend the culprits using only necessary force.” The dust enclosing his body solidified, becoming a hard, smooth armor. Before the helmet and visor firmed into place, he looked down to watch the city’s crest blossom across his chest in bright gold, a striking contrast to the dark blue that colored the rest of his armor. “You will be provided with the tools you need as you require them.” And then his vision darkened as the helmet and visor coalesced in place. He spent only a moment in darkness before the inside of the visor lit up with the view ahead of him, information beginning to overlap the image of the street. “One necessary tool available to you is a live map, centering on you with your target marked in red.”

Even as the words poured into his ears, the map spiderwebbed across his vision. It didn’t take him long to orient the map; it turned when he did. The red dot that marked the location of the crime was easy to find. It was back the way he had just come, several streets over. Derek turned and started off in a run that slowed to a jog after a block. His nightly activities were certainly giving him some exercise, but he wasn’t in shape for a marathon yet!

As he jogged quickly toward the location, the nanites fed him more information. Most of which he had already heard, but he listened closely for any changes. “You will be in constant contact with your nanites. We will be able to provide most tools instantly without being asked. We have been programmed to recognize a variety of situations and the tools required for them. For example, restraints will be available to you at such time as you capture a suspect. If a situation is not within our programmed set of protocols, vocalize the need and we will provide tools within our capabilities.”

Derek turned a corner and the target filled his vision. Wal-mart. So much for his innate directional sense. As he stepped onto the property, the map reduced itself from a city map view to a building structural view. The building was primarily a giant warehouse, with a dividing wall between back stock area and customer floor zones. There were a couple of offices and bathrooms toward the front. The rest was empty, the nanites didn’t have information on the layout of the shelves and racks of the store.

“Nanites, turn the map off please.” The map dimmed and faded away quickly. He scanned the parking lot. There weren’t enough cars to cover him in case anyone was watching out of the door. “I need to see closer.” He was just too far away and strolling up to the front door didn’t seem like the brightest of ideas.

“Telescopic view available.”

“Really? Cool. Turn it on!” Derek threw up his hands to help keep his balance as the visored view leaped him forward across the parking lot. He winced, preparing himself to hit the front of the building face first. A moment later, still barely on his feet, he blinked and realized that he hadn’t moved. But now he appeared to be standing on the sidewalk in front of the building, looking at the glass front doors. There was a man standing behind the middle door with a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. His arms were crossed and he was looking outside across the parking lot.

“That would be the lookout.” Derek turned his head a little to the left to see if there were any outside and his vision sped along the building and across the adjoining street, putting him standing inside a living room window in the darkness. “Whoa! Turn off the telescopic view, please!” Lesson learned. Don’t move much when you’re looking a mile in front of you. Got it.

He was looking across the parking lot again and getting worried about the time. He was taking too long. “Map of the building again, please?”

The map blinked into view and he looked again at the structure of the building, this time, looking for alternate entrances. There was a freight entrance around back. Two big truck doors and one normal sized door. He turned off the map and headed around back. He was able to squeeze in behind a truck that was backed up to the loading dock and make his way into the back stock area undiscovered.

I need to find out where everyone is, Derek thought to himself. He pulled up the map again and found the security office. It was at the top of a set of rickety stairs in the back corner of the stock area. Inside, a half dozen monitors displayed camera views from all over the store. He could see where the hunting cabinets were hanging open. Open and empty. There was the lookout at the front door. Another was smashing the jewelry cases and stuffing everything he could grab into a backpack. In the cafe, a dozen employees and a couple of late night customers sat at the picnic-style tables with two armed guards watching over them. Another gunman stood over an employee at the safe in the manager’s office. And there was yet another one now roaming through the stock area he had just come through. He must be checking for other employees in hiding. Derek shook his head. Half a dozen armed men, he thought to himself, damn I wish I could call for backup.

Derek slipped carefully out of the security door and down the stairs. He moved as quietly as he could, but the stairs creaked at his weight and it attracted the roamer’s attention.

“Who’s over there? Come out now and I won’t hurt you!” The gunman moved toward the back corner and Derek slipped behind a tower of large boxes in the shadow. The packing sticker on the side of the boxes read Tedd E. Bear. Derek could hear the roamer’s footsteps getting closer. He nudged the boxes, getting an idea. They were pretty heavy. He faced the tower of 4 foot square boxes and shoved as hard as he could just as the one looking for him reached the other side. The nanites added their boosted strength and the tower toppled over. A short shout rang out and the pistol he had been carrying skidded across the floor.

“Cuffs, please.” Derek moved to the side and pushed one of the boxes off the man. Tedd E. Bears tumbled out around him.

“Cuffs ready on each hip.” Derek snatched the cuffs from his hip and locked them around the man’s wrists, behind his back.

“One down, 99 bottles to go.” Derek headed for the jewelry counter. He knew the employees were the first priority, but six to one just weren’t his odds. He needed to cut down their numbers a bit.

As he moved toward the jewelry counter, he reviewed his options. “I’ll probably need a distraction for the guys watching the employees. Nanites, what tools do I have for distraction?” Derek dashed across the aisle into the men’s slacks and ducked down, moving between the racks of clothes to keep out of sight.

“Available tools for distraction: Voice-throwing, Marbles-”

“Marbles? When I said distraction, I didn’t mean a game!” Pretty cool that the nanites have games, though. He wondered if they have Solitaire.

“Marble: a small round ball formed for the purpose of throwing to cause a target to look in a direction other than the one from which it was thrown.”

Oh.

“Available tools for distraction: Voice-throwing, Marbles, Incendiary grenade, flash bomb-”

“Grenades and bombs? For distraction?” Derek moved from the men’s slacks into the women’s accessories. The jewelry counter was just through the purses.

“Incendiary grenades ignite fires. Fire can be an effective distraction for multiple opponents. A flash bomb is a non-lethal device that cause an extremely bright flash of light. At close range it can induce temporary blindness.”

Derek crouched behind a rack of purses and peered at the man rampaging through the jewelry. He seemed to have smashed some of the glass just for the fun of it. He currently had his head buried in the diamond displays, the last of the cabinets to still hold anything he hadn’t taken. There was glass all over the floor and the aisles around the counter were clear of cover. Then Derek started grinning.

“Flash bomb, huh? Wow, those diamonds sure do sparkle. OK, boys, one flash bomb, please.”

“Gathering materials from local sources. Stand by.”

Derek fidgeted while the diamonds went one by one into the sack. Fortunately, the thief took the time to inspect and admire each one before putting it in. Faster than he had expected, there was a voice in his ear.

“Flash bomb prepared. To fire flash bomb: Focus eyes on target. Targeting system will track your vision. Direct arm toward target. When ready to fire, squeeze your hand into a fist. Bomb will ignite on impact with focused location.”

“Sounds good.” Derek focused on the bottom shelf, just under where the thief was working. He grinned and stretched out his right arm, squeezing his hand into a fist. A compartment on the upper part of his right forearm slid open and a small barrel ratcheted out. A slight poof signaled the launch and then his visor display dimmed sharply, just before a bright flash went off in the diamond case. Refracted through fifty different diamonds, the brilliant light had quite an effect on the crook. He jerked back and fell over, clutching at his eyes.

“What the hell!?”

Derek was in motion and leaped over the diamond case, landing beside the man. He knew if he had tried that without the nanite armor, he’d have ended up inside the diamond case, and likely upside down. He really needed to work out more. He found a set of hand cuffs ready and waiting for him on his hip. As soon as the man felt steel around his wrists, his voice got louder. Derek didn’t bother asking the nanites for anything this time. He ripped a silk scarf from the counter display and gagged the man, leaving him there.

Derek hurried back into the racks. He was sure that someone would have heard the commotion and come to help. A moment later, a baseball cap came floating above the tops of the racks. Derek knelt lower behind a rack of purses as the baseball cap came closer.

“Nanites, I need a tripwire that I can fire across the aisle.” Derek whispered, hoping he was loud enough for the nanites to hear, but not the criminal. They seemed to have no problem.

“Tripwire dart activated on left forearm. Focus eyes on target to aim; squeeze fist to fire.”

Derek thrust his arm through an opening in the bottom of the wire rack and picked a spot of wood foundation under the glass cabinet. He wanted to fire the dart just before the man’s feet reached it, so he wouldn’t have time to avoid it. “Now,” Derek whispered, as he watched the man’s right foot step onto the square just behind the spot he had picked out. He squeezed his fist and the dart shot out.

The man howled as the tripwire dart lodged itself into his right ankle. He jerked his right foot back and tangled his left in the wire, knocking himself off balance. He hit the floor hard, doubled up, reaching for his ankle. Derek cringed at his error, but wasted no time. Before the man knew it, Derek had cuffed his left hand to his right ankle and the other wrist to the other ankle. Another silk scarf marked three down, three to go.

“Sorry about your ankle.” Derek headed toward the cafe. There were two gunmen guarding several employees. He had to figure out how to neutralize those guards before he could get past that area to the manager’s office where the safe was.

Derek leaned around a pyramid display of recent blockbuster movies for sale. The employees and customers were all sitting at the tables, with their hands in plain sight. One gunman was facing away from him, looking over the people and down the aisle toward the checkout lanes. The other one was facing to Derek’s right. He leaned forward to make sure there were only the two of them and suddenly the movies slid out from under him. The entire pyramid began to cascade onto the floor, exposing him. Derek froze, staring at the movies, shocked. The gunmen didn’t freeze.

“Who the hell is that?”

“It’s one of those new cops! Get him!”

Derek jerked his head up and saw two rifles, both pointing at him. Each man fired before Derek could get himself in motion. One of the movie cases imploded near his elbow, still toppling down on top of its neighbors. A glass vase on the other side of him shattered and finally urged him to move faster. He dove behind a wall of merchandise and crouched back against it.

“They shot at me!”

“Correct. You are now authorized to use lethal force to protect yourself and the civilians.”

“I said they shot at me!” The nanites responded by altering his gauntlets. The backs of his forearms humped up and became rounded barrels with the business ends opening above and behind the backs of his hands.

“Focus your eyes on a target to aim. Extend your arm to load a round. Squeeze your fist to fire. Reminder: Your first priority is to protect the civilians.” Derek looked at the altered armor and took a breath. He stood up behind the wall and nodded. In the reflection of a large silver serving bowl set upright, he saw that the gold emblem on his chest and his helmet visor were now outlined in bright red. No more Mr. Nice Cop.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are! Show yourself or I start shooting smiley faces!” Derek stepped to the corner of the wall and looked out. Each of the gunmen now held a hostage. Derek straightened out his right arm and threw himself into view. He sighted on the first gunman and squeezed. He hit the smooth, well-waxed tile floor and slid. Without waiting, he took aim on the other man with his other arm and squeezed again. He slammed against a case of potato chip bags and they rained down around him as his back ached from the sudden stop of the slide. But as the plastic bags fell, so did the two gunmen.

There was only one left, and Derek knew he’d heard the shots. He scrambled off the floor and headed for the employee hallway behind the diner. Derek barreled down the hallway and turned the corner to find the last criminal running just as fast from the other direction. There was no time to aim, no time to squeeze. Derek punched straight into the man’s jaw. The hard nanite armor combined with the inertia of his own speed flipped the man over backwards and knocked him cold. Derek asked for cuffs and restrained the man before continuing down the hallway to the office. He wanted that last employee to know she was safe.

He opened the door to a girl with chestnut colored hair stuffing the money from the safe into a black backpack. She was wearing the traditional blue vest with a bright yellow smiley face. She turned around, wide-eyed and obviously scared.

“It’s alright, miss. I’ve taken care of the robbers. You can put the money back now.” Derek noticed her badge. Susan Roberts – Hunting Equipment. She was so pretty. Her big, scared, doe eyes and the soft chestnut hair. He knelt down and took the bricks of cash from her hands, setting them back into the safe. “There’s no reason to be scared of me, Susan. I’m just a man.” He reached up and pushed back the visor, showing her his face, though he lost the visual display of the nanite technology. “My name’s Derek.” She smiled nervously and nodded, emptying the bag of cash and refilling the safe.

***

Derek laid quietly in the dark room, holding his wife closely. “I’m just a man, Susan. Your man.” Derek closed his eyes and slept.

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