The Nanite Chaser

Derek Daniels was looking for trouble. He was a Nanite Chaser. Not by trade, of course; there was no money involved in Nanite Chasing. It was all about justice. Or, maybe, if you listened to those that ridiculed Nanite Chasers, it was about power or self-aggrandizement.

Derek couldn’t necessarily say what drove him into the darkness so many nights. He only knew that it had hold of him and that it felt good. He had been doing it for ten years, ever since the city had dissolved the human police force and established the Nanite Assisted Citizen Police. There were months of debate over it and the media couldn’t seem to get enough of it. The city planned to purchase and release into the air a horde of nanites, which would keep constant, invisible surveillance for crimes and emergencies. Upon sighting one, they would search for the closest available citizen and request that citizen’s help.

He parked his car on a dark side street and turned off the ignition. The lights dimmed inside the car until he was sitting in darkness. He sat quietly, trying to shut out the voices that called him a fool. He yanked the handle of the door and shoved it open, stepping out of the car and slamming the door shut behind him. A night wind whipped his dark hair around his ears. There was a touch of gray mixed in that he didn’t want to think about now. He unbuttoned the starched, collared blue shirt and shrugged it off his shoulders. He balled it up and tossed it through the open window of the car. Experience had taught him that nicer shirts had a tendency to either restrict movement under the nanite armor or get ripped up. He didn’t need to bring home an excuse for Susan to yell at him. The blue undershirt would serve well enough both for comfort and fashion as he walked.

He leaned his head to one side and stretched. Then to the other side. He shook off the rigor mortis of the office and took a deep breath of the chilled night air. He smiled at the shiver that ran down his back. He called it the feeling of being alive. He knelt and tied his shoelace. He carried no weapons or tools. The nanites would provide what he needed. He stood up, turned his back to the wind, and walked. Sometimes he would walk half the night before finding any excitement. Sometimes it would find him before he was even out of the car. This was one of the rare times when he saw the trouble even before the nanites found him.

He paused at an old fashioned toy store, looking in the window at the wooden soldiers and wind up tanks. Then he saw a flash reflected in the glass. A lick of flame burst forth in the distance over his shoulder. He turned and quickly saw the smoke rising into the black sky, blotting out a large slice of the starry night sky. A building was on fire down the cross street. Without a second thought, he sprinted across the road, headed for the fire. He was right here; what was taking those nanites so long? And then there they were.

“Citizen, your city is in need of you. There is a building on fire nearby. Will you agree to serve and protect?”

“Yes, I agree. Now suit me up; I’m almost there!”

He had to stop and stand still for the nanites to do their job. He cursed the short time it took, but knew it could not be avoided. Besides, this was part of what he loved about his nightly forays. The air felt suddenly thicker and a dense cloud coalesced around him. The swirling dust clung to him and covered him. He thought he could sense some of the nanites entering his body, but he knew that was only psychological. As the majority of the nanites formed armor around his skin and a helmet around his head, Derek got moving again.

“Citizen, you have been armored by Nanite Law Enforcement and some nanites have infiltrated your body to assist your natural abilities in this time of emergency.”

Derek kept running. He rolled his eyes behind the smokey visor of his helmet. “Yeah, yeah, communications, accelerated healing, I know the drill. Shut up so I can concentrate.”

“You will be in constant contact with the nanite communications grid, feeding you information and updating your status to the network. Your body is also being augmented by the nanites to boost your strength and speed and accelerate healing if the need should arise.”

Derek vaulted onto the roof of a car and rolled across the top to land on his feet running on the other side. He loved the feeling of the power boost as his legs gave him more lift than they normally could. The smooth skin of the armor slid easily across the roof. Thanks to the nanites he was now more agile and in control of his body than usual. Then there was a bright flash in his visor and his vision was filled with the GPS map.

“You are also provided with GPS capability and an active map of the city.” He missed the edge of the car’s roof and didn’t get his feet down in time. He hit the ground rolling instead of running and tumbled headfirst into an empty fruit stand. He hadn’t been expecting the map to come up, since he was within 20 feet of the burning structure.

“Dammit. Enough information already! I’ve done this before.” Derek shook his head and picked himself out of the broken fruit stand. “Map off.” The GPS visual pinpointing his location and the fire faded from view. Being as intimately linked as they were, he didn’t have to vocalize commands to the nanite gear. The barest whisper would be enough to get their attention and usually, he didn’t even need that. “Do you have any information for me that is specific to this particular emergency?”

“This is a building fire. Your armor is insulated from most of the heat and will protect you from quick direct contact. You have CO2 production available for-”

“I know how to fight a fire. Is there anything I need to know about THIS fire? Dangerous chemicals? Building stability?”

“There are three men unconscious on the second floor.”

Derek rolled his eyes in exasperation. “THAT is need-to-know information!” He tried the doorknob of the nearest entry point, two metal doors at the corner of the building. They were locked. He stepped back and kicked the door just above the knob. There was a loud squeal from the metal and the door swung in. A burst of flame rushed out at him, hungry for the oxygen he was letting in. He felt the heat, but it wasn’t enough to even make him pause. There were lives in danger somewhere above him.

“Can I get a map of the building, please?” In the lower right corner of his vision, a map faded into view, the walls of the structure marked in light green. “Much better. Thank you!” There was a stairway at the other end of the building. This looked like it was a service area of some kind. With no one to impress, the walls were mostly cinderblock, which didn’t burn well. But the wooden tables in the middle of the room were on fire and flame was creeping across the ceiling like an angry python.

“Hope the CO2 is up.” He held out one palm flat toward the first table. A spray of extinguishing foam fanned out, covering the table and damping out the flames. He did the same for the ceiling with what he hoped was equal success. It was harder to tell for things like ceilings and walls. The fire had a tendency to just jump out at you from somewhere else. He hit the other two tables on his way to the door of the room. With three men to get out of the building, he wanted to leave a cool exit path behind him.

The hallway was worse. It was covered floor to ceiling in a wood paneling that the fire couldn’t seem to get enough of. He didn’t have time to try to put all of this out. He had to get to those men. He hurried down the hall, spraying extinguisher to the sides as he went, hoping it would help a little. The smoke was getting thicker as he made his way deeper into the building. It was getting harder to see. Thank goodness the nanites were filtering it out so he could breath. He found the stairs and bounded up two at a time.

“Where are the men?” Three small blue dots appeared on the small green diagram that was now showing the second floor. They were in a room three doors away from him. He moved down the hallway and shuddered when he saw the third door. A ceiling beam had given way and fallen against it, still engulfed in flames. Even if he put out the fire, the beam was too big for him to move.

He checked the map, but the it was the only door into the room. The building groaned around him and he swore he felt the floor shifting. “Guess it’s time to do some remodeling. Nanites, I need a hatchet.”

“Hatchet is positioned on your right leg.” Derek pulled the hatchet away from his armor and turned to the wall beside the door. It took only a few chops to force a hole in the wall. A few more widened it enough to get him through. The room was filled with smoke, but somehow, the fire hadn’t reached it yet. The three men were asleep on cots. That explained why the nanites hadn’t just helped them get themselves out. The smoke had overcome them.

“Time to wake up boys! Wake up!” Derek shook them and shouted. Slowly, they started to wake up. The seemed confused and weak, natural for smoke victims. “I’m here to help. The building is on fire. We have to get you out of here.” He knew that the fire was getting worse. Flames had finally found their way into the room through the hole he had made. The sight finally encouraged the men to hurry a little.

Derek led the way, first spraying extinguisher around the edge of the ragged hole in the wall. Then they hurried toward the staircase. Derek kept a steady stream of CO2 pointed at the fire ahead of them, trying to force a safe passage for the men. He turned as one of them cried out behind him. He had stumbled. The other two tried to lift him, but were clearly too weakened by the fire to support more than their own bodies. He waved them onward and stepped back to help the man up. As he reached him, he realized it was worse than he had thought. The man was unconscious again. Derek threw him onto his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and lurched toward the stairs. Boosted strength or not, this guy was heavy.

Derek fired CO2 down the stairs. “Be careful,” he called to the two men ahead of them. “That stuff can get slippery.” He started down the stairs with his passenger and sent another jet of CO2 down to keep the fire away from the men near the bottom. Halfway down the stairs, he had visions of the staircase collapsing from under his feet and being engulfed by flames, but they held long enough for him to reach the ground floor. From there, it was a much easier trip to get the men outside. His mental map showed another door through a room behind the stairs, and they took that exit, spraying CO2 all around as he went.

He got all three men across the street to a bus bench where they drank deep of the crisp oxygen-full night air. The nanites informed him that medics had been signaled and were on the way. While they waited, Derek admired the reflection in the store window behind the bench. The shiny black and blue nanite armor, with the City’s Crest emblazoned across the chest in gold, certainly cut a handsome form against the background of a towering inferno. There was no sign of Derek Daniels in his reflection, and he was just fine with that. As the paramedic truck pulled around the corner, he bid the men good evening and vanished down the alley. Out of sight, the nanites disengaged and departed in a cloud of dust, leaving nothing more than a thank you for his service.

As he strolled down the dark street in dark slacks and a light blue undershirt, he wondered if Susan would be asleep when he got home or still out with her friends. She hated when he came home smelling of smoke.

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