They knew that police protection was out of the question; Tim wasn’t a VIP.
Things had really changed in urban areas like the one flung out around the seat of government. Before the introduction of energy weapons, police departments had placed surveillance cameras and a mixture of wide-angle and directional microphones all over the place. Firing a regular projectile weapon guaranteed you would be traced and arrested sooner or later. Even silenced small caliber handguns created a shockwave the mics picked up. For a time, murdering thugs were restricted to quieter weapons. But then again, simply beating someone was easier because it was hard for the devices to distinguish actual violence from standard boisterous behavior that had become socially common these days.
Pulse weapons were silent, but cumbersome at first, and very tightly controlled. For once, crooks struggled to get their hands on something dangerous as the technology was impossible to get, so bootlegging was out of the question. Once a few of the earliest model weapons became available on the black market, they were obscenely expensive on the order of small passenger aircraft, so common thugs were left out. By that time, the underworld had gotten used to employing a mixture of other methods that were much riskier than using firearms, in the sense that victims might have a chance to fight back. Casual slaughter eased off for a while.
Tim and Ned agreed that it was just a matter of time before pulse technology escaped into the world at large. For now, they took advantage of the situation and planned their security arrangements accordingly. They plundered the recent criminal databases accessible to them legitimately; the city was less prickly about it than the state. Ned had AI offer a list of the most probable threat scenarios, along with any known successful defenses. This became the basis for drills that took up a major portion of their workouts. At this point, Ned’s informal bodyguard role became more pronounced.
All the while, he kept his new “cellphone” with him, either on his person or with the camera watching their workouts. One of the most interesting new features was the one they had included for Franklin’s device. The field sensor would scan the user’s whole body and establish a baseline condition. While a full medical scan was still way beyond AI’s capacity, they were able to program the sensor to detect injuries — type, location and severity. Ned tested this detecting ordinary bruises and strains during training. While he couldn’t pin it down just yet, something told him this would make a world of difference somewhere down the road.
And then his hacker friends passed along a purloined toxicology database. Ned didn’t ask questions; he just started AI working on it immediately. He got the impression it was a substantial task, but hoped it would yield scanning for common poisons, either nearby or — God forbid — having been slipped into his body. He extended the protection for Tim when he was within range. Tim had to avoid carrying gadgets like that, since he spent too much time coming and going in the senate offices. Their security was downright excessive and not mere theater.
Ned’s decision was highly fortuitous. They stopped for lunch at one of their favorite cafes and Tim asked for coffee and a menu. Ned had never learned to tolerate coffee and sipped at the usual glass of water. Holding the menu, Tim reached absently for his cup. Ned glanced over the top of his glass and spoke quietly.
“Tim, I recommend you don’t actually drink the coffee. Maybe pretend you got a call or something and then leave this place.”
Tim let his hand rest on the edge of the table. Still perusing the menu, he replied in the same quiet tone, “Are you serious?”
“Drop some money and the table and walk out. Your coffee is poisoned.”
Tim jerked his hand back and reached into his pocket, dropping the menu in front of him. He gazed at his government-issued cell phone, then rose still looking at it. He put it away, fished a few bills out of his pocket and motioned Ned to follow him.
Outside on the street, they walked a few meters before Tim turned his head to address Ned who was on his left and one step behind. “Was it really that bad?”
Ned pulled out his super cell phone and showed Tim the display. It said something about an obscure toxin that would have been tasteless in bitter liquids like coffee. He looked up and Ned pulled it back. As they continued walking Tim spoke without turning.
“Ned, can you cook?”
It was Tim’s deadpan humor. Since they were still hungry, Tim strode up a couple more blocks to a random sidewalk food cart and they grabbed something without a peep from Ned’s device. They moved off to the side in a small open spot where other folks were chatting or poking at their various cell phones. Facing away from most the crowd, Tim said quietly between mouthfuls, “So it begins. Your earplug came in handy.”
“Yeah,” Ned replied. “And I can still hear ambient sounds through it. Neat design.”
Tim winked. “Here’s hoping they don’t know we know. Crap like that can make you paranoid.”
“And we weren’t already? Looks like it was justified.” Ned was pretending to watch someone busking with a guitar a few meters down the sidewalk.
Tim followed his gaze. “I doubt there’s any way you could check on that cafe and find out how that happened. Let’s try to keep up our normal routine, as well as the guarded watch for the next trick. Provided we manage to keep evading, sooner or later they’re gonna try something that will leave evidence one of us can trace back to a culprit.”
Ned glanced around. “Agreed. Even if we never really unmask the big bad guys behind this, it’s almost fun to frustrate them. It’s like taunting them by refusing to hide out or make other significant changes to our routine. You still got work to do. And necessity is the mother of all kinds of brilliant new ideas, so I can’t wait to see what comes from our game of cat-n-mouse. Our technical advantage is worth a fortune on the market.”
Tim grinned. “Shhhh. That’s how my lab stays afloat, so don’t go behind them selling ideas like that. It’s bad enough your hacker buds know so much.”
Ned knew he was just kidding. The hackers were the source of most of the lab’s custom hardware designs. In return for churning out the prototypes for the hackers to test new ideas, the patents were licensed back to the lab free of charge. AI buzzed in his ear to remind him of Tim’s next appointment. “Back to work, Boss.”
They turned and headed toward the cluster of government buildings near the center of the city.