Nikki “H3x” Brown
It was a shock but not a surprise.
Nikki had observed an increasing number of helicopters in the skies above San Lazaro since the crisis had started. Every day there were more of them: police and army choppers, hired transports, private birds. She reckoned it was only a matter of time before a collision occurred. When it did, it happened only a block away.
Hearing the whine of the failing engines and then the booming impact, she followed the noise and reached the crash scene in less than five minutes. It appeared that the second aircraft had managed to stay in the air but this one had come down on an abandoned lot beside a warehouse. It was three in the morning and Nikki was not surprised to find she was the only one present. There were few apartment buildings in this part of town and most people were following the recently-announced curfew.
Nikki had never done what people told her to – especially the authorities – and she wasn’t about to start now. Her employer, Lady Rose of the Red Dragon gang, had summoned her for a quick hacking job. Nikki finished in under an hour and was headed to an underground bar where they played her kind of music. Not many places did so it was worth the long walk. Usually.
As she approached the wreck, she activated the flashlight implant in her left index finger. Setting it to wide beam, she noted that the rotors had shattered and that the aircraft had come to rest on its side. There was no sign of fire but the tail was issuing a thin trail of grey smoke. The chopper was army green and carried National Guard markings. The cockpit window had shattered and she could hear someone groaning inside. Nikki aimed the light at the window but couldn’t see much through the damage.
‘Who’s there?’ came a weak male voice.
Almost wishing she had stayed away, Nikki looked around but could still see no sign of anyone else.
She considered leaving. But who knew what she might find in the cockpit? Military tech could be very useful.
Walking around the nose of the aircraft, she found herself looking at the crumpled undercarriage. A broken panel was hanging loose and by using that as foothold, she was able to reach up and grab the left-side skids. Once she’d pulled herself up onto the metal pole, she clambered onto the edge of the cockpit. The door had been torn off during the impact and she found herself face to face with a surprisingly young-looking pilot.
‘Can you point that somewhere else?’
Nikki aimed the light past him and saw the second pilot. Her head was hanging limply and she didn’t appear to be breathing.
‘Er … not sure,’ said Nikki, though she knew a corpse when she saw one.
‘My neck hurts,’ said the pilot.
‘I’m sure it does … Lopez.’
She saw the name tag on his uniform and kept the beam low, away from his eyes.
‘Radio,’ he said, wincing with pain.
‘Right there, central panel – I need to call base. Didn’t have time to tell them where we came down.’
‘I’ll see what I can do. Going to need something in return though.’
Given the state of the chopper and the difficulty of removing hardware, Nikki knew there would likely be something equally valuable – and portable.
‘Military encryption keycodes can be very useful. As I understand it, all senior officers have them. I reckon that would include pilots.’
‘Are you serious, lady?’
‘Completely. Or of course I can go on my way.’
‘Jesus. Top left pocket.’
Nikki undid the button and reached inside the jacket pocket. She pulled out a wafer-like rectangle, which she swiftly examined before placing it in her own pocket. The keycodes could give access to military coms networks and – now more than ever – Lady Rose was keen to acquire information.
‘Much obliged.’ Nikki had to stretch past Lopez to get to the radio. Like the rest of the helicopter’s systems, it wasn’t functioning.
‘Fried?’ asked the pilot.
‘Maybe, maybe not.’
Nikki tapped twice on her palm with her right index finger. This activated the emergency booster implanted within her hand. The miniature device could identify the nearest battery and temporarily augment it. Nikki waited a couple of seconds for the sensor to find the radio and was relieved when a green light appeared. She grabbed the handset and placed it in front of Lopez with the transmit key held down.
‘Harris Park Base this is Eagle Three.’
The reply came quickly. ‘Eagle Three, this is Harris Park. What’s your status?’
‘We’re on the deck. Collided with … something. Require immediate assistance. Hawkins is … we need help.’
‘Your beacon isn’t functioning, Three. What’s your location?’
‘Forrest Avenue,’ said Nikki, ‘close to the junction with Fourth Street.’
Lopez repeated the address. ‘And please hurry.’
‘On our way, pal. Hang in there.’
‘Thanks,’ The pilot returned the handset to Nikki.
She double-tapped her palm again to disengage the booster.
‘How did you do that?’ asked Lopez with a grimace.
Nikki pretended not to notice the blood oozing from under his helmet onto his forehead.
Still perched on the side of the aircraft, Nikki realized that she could already hear sirens. And they were getting closer.
‘They never came that quick in my neighborhood,’ she said as she prepared to climb down.
‘Not staying?’ said Lopez.
‘Sirens and lights make me nervous.’
‘You’re quite the mercenary, lady, but thanks anyway.’
Nikki turned around and lowered herself down using the skids. Turning the light off, she hurried across the lot to the street. Several cop cars and some big army vehicle were speeding down Forest Avenue towards her, sirens blaring. Just before the flashing lights reached her, Nikki turned off into an alley and disappeared into the shadows.