Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

By the time the stubborn git drops, I’m not sure if my nose is numb from the cold or from him hitting it. Christ, what a night to be out earning. Snow up to my ankles and only a footie top under my now-torn padded jacket. Dammit, I like this jacket. Had it off a stallholder down Streatham way. Fuck me, must be over a year ago now.
Right, enough of the ‘down memory lane’ bollocks. What’s this hardcase got that he didn’t want me to have?
As my grandad loved to say, “You know when you’ve been tangoed.” Bloody hell but my ribs are giving it some. I’m going to be black and blue tomorrow.
Aye-aye, fancy phone you had, matey. My word but it’s heavy. You stashed something in it, did you?
“David, is that you?”
Was the prick on the phone when we kicked off? No? What the f-
“Hello, bystander. Has my carrier encountered an unexpected difficulty?”
Yeah: me. Hang on, ‘my carrier’?
“Just found him lying out here, miss.”
“I’m not ‘miss’, I’m Prototype Ninety-Three. Now, is David dead?”
“No. he’s breathing. Looks like he’s been mugged: his clothes are ripped and he’s bleeding.”
“Thank you for your assessment. May I have your name?”
Like hell you can. I swing my arm back for a high lob up onto the railway viaduct. That should sort-
“Throwing me away won’t help. I’ve summoned paramedics and police in addition to the armed response unit that scrambled the moment I alerted Centrex of activity I interpreted as melee.”
“Then why the questions?”
“To interrupt any murderous intent and discern your state of mind from voice stress analysis. It also allowed me to conclusively match your voice with that of the assailant.”
I was always too fond of mouthing off when fighting.
“Are you trying to keep me about ’til the plod get here?”
“From your word usage and stress levels, you don’t evaluate as being dim-witted. Delaying tactics would be useless. However, I would appreciate it if you don’t kill David or damage me. Therefore, my survival protocols allow me to offer a deal.”
What the utter fuck is this thing?
“I’m listening.”
“He has a datavault with four thousand cryptoRUP in a sheath on his left ankle. Worth a lot and, more importantly, something he cannot report stolen. By the way: you have less than three minutes before the first weapons drone arrives.”
Wait a minute.
“What’s to stop you giving my voice print to the authorities?”
“You’re going to put me back in his trouser pocket and I’ll delete the log of this incident from immediately after the alert to when I am next prompted by external query. Two minutes.”
Fuck this. I’m gone.
“Deal. I’m putting you back now.”
I grab the vault and do one. Through a fence, down an alley, over a wall, and through the grounds of the cathedral. Exactly two and a half minutes later, I’m buying a jacket to replace the torn one I shoved into a recycler at the edge of Borough Market.
My phone rings.
It’s that voice again: “Thank you, Roger Cerrant of twenty-one the High Street, Balham. As Centrex has deemed you useful, Prototype Ninety-Four will arrive at your gaff – is that the correct parlance? – tomorrow morning. It will be dormant. The activation phrase is ‘Use this or die while serving eight years for robbery’.”
The line goes dead. There’s no trace of the call on my phone.
Oh, fuckin’ hell.