Tranquil Season – Sunday Tradition

Note from the Author – On a slight break from writing Tranquil Law, my post-cyberpunk police procedural, to write the Winter Memories posts and some other Christmas fiction comes this, the first in a series of holiday stories set in December 2111, a month before Tranquil Law kicks off. The first one features Cybernetics Response Unit Officer Louise Barrington, a military sniper turned police woman. Enjoy!

Waterplace Park; Providence, Rhode Island, North America – 17:31 December 20th 2111.

Wrapped up snugly in a long black overcoat, Louise Barrington looked over the outdoor ice skating rink intently, resting against the barrier with a cup of coffee in one hand. The other was held out, catching the occasional flake of snow on her metallic hand. Every so often, one would touch the sensitive pads on her fingertips and the sensations would wash over her: cold, light and crispy to the delicate tactile sensors built in.

Tall skyscrapers and vast complexes formed the cityscape around Waterplace Park, shining with lights both mundane and festive. On the circular rink in the middle of the park, a massive Christmas tree decorated in the centre, skaters weaved their way across the ice. Young and old were represented amongst the skaters, though the Cybernetic Response Unit officer had her eyes on one skater in particular.

A young girl, between eight and ten years old, glided nimbly across the ice with the occasional flourish and twirl. Wrapped up warm in a light purple padded jacket, her dark hair streamed behind her, face rosy red in the cool air that had settled over the city. She didn’t quite skate in time with the medley of seasonal tunes coming across the loudspeakers, but she made a good effort.

Louise’s right eye, the advanced green replacement for the brown one she had lost in the Cartel Insurgency conflicts, flicked away from the girl to glimpse the family watching her skate. Identical to her in so many ways was her twin sister, Annette. Her eyes both matched, her limbs flesh and blood, a young child in her arms watching their sibling skate.

The taller man next to her was snapping photos with a slender handheld camera, the laugh being picked up by her cochlear implants identifying him as her eldest brother, Nate. There was no sign of Annette’s husband, nor of her parents. Louise told herself it didn’t matter, but she was never much good at lying to herself.

A sudden movement in her left eye drew her attention back to her niece. The girl had fallen, spinning lightly on her front as she came to a stop. The other skaters moved around her, giving her plenty of space to get back on her feet and-

“Suck it, drones!” A yell came from nearby, a small group of youths hurling trash onto the rink, followed more worryingly by one of the city recycling bins, a large round unit that started rolling at speed across the ice.

It was rolling towards her niece.

Louise’s coffee cup landed with a thunk on the floor as she flung herself over the barriers, limbs powered and primed for quick action. The merest thought had the traction systems in the soles of her feet online, allowing for a quick traverse of the ice to snatch the girl up. An effortless jump, even in one-g, sent her soaring above the bin.

The ice cracked on landing, thick and jagged lines running out from the point of impact as she landed in a crouch, legs taking the force with ease. The young girl held closely to her was staring with awe at the woman who looked so like her mother. Letting her down gently, she flashed a quick smile. “Go back to your Mom and your Uncle.” She urged, her left hand dipping under her coat to remove the E04 TAZCART handgun she had brought with her. The chunky looking weapon, a Meyli Designs less-than-lethal law enforcement sidearm featuring four independently targeting tazer dart launchers, hummed with power as it came online.

“United Nations Police Force!” Louise shouted to the youths as she stood, weapon locking on to four of the five present. “Put your hands in the air and submit or face the consequences!”

They chose to run instead of submitting. She wasn’t surprised. Starting off in a brief jog across the ice, her speed increased as she neared the barrier they had been throwing things from. A nimble leap sent her over the top and got her running as soon as her feet touched concrete.

Her legs were capable of sustained running at up to thirty eight miles per hour. She didn’t need half that to get within firing range. The four pairs of two darts soared through the air by gas propellant, landing true and delivering a surge of power that brought them to a tumbling stop. Her right hand removed another firearm, a C10 CAPTAZ pistol that fired rubber bullets containing a capacitance-charged gel. Two quick shots brought the last runner down.

The UNPF were quick to arrive, just as she finished tying the last pair of wrists together with a durable plastic pair of restraints. She was just as quick to pass over responsibility to them.

“That was some good work Officer Barrington.” The responding officer said, supervising the loading of some of the youths into the patrol car.

“Right place, right time, Officer. Home for Christmas.” She replied, before glancing back to the ice rink. “Are you all right to handle everything here? I can get my notes and visuals uploaded to your computers by the end of the evening.”

“It’s fine we have the security feeds to be going on too. Oh, and Officer Barrington?”

She turned to look back at him. “Yes?”

“Have a happy holiday.”

Smiling, she nodded to him. “You too.”

Staring at the cup on the floor, rich brown coffee staining the snow, Louise sighed and eyed the line at the nearby stall, set up to provide for the skaters. Seeing as the ice had to be resurfaced before anyone could be allowed back on, there was a long line for it.

“What are you doing here, Louise?” A familiar voice said from behind her. Turning, she came face to face with her sister, eyebrow arched and expression guarded.

“The Sunday before Christmas, we always came here. I’ve been doing it every year.” She explained to her twin, leaning against the guard rail.

“Even after you cleared out your savings, your college fund, upped and left?”

“Even then.” Louise replied. “You look well.” She commented, her twin dressed in a luxurious navy blue coat that still hinted at a slender figure underneath, simple touches of expensive make up accentuating her natural beauty.

“Well, I didn’t have my limbs lopped off and fight in a war against our father’s wishes. I hear that’s good for the skin.” Annette replied, before focusing her gaze on Louise’s right eye. “You even got rid of an eye too?”

“Oh, no, that was unintentional. Shrapnel from a grenade.” She chuckled, slender prosthetic fingers tapping the slight scarring of the skin around her eyesocket. “They were out of browns at the time and I grew to like it.”

“You’re beyond belief.” Annette huffed. “You best head off soon though, Mother and Father are on their way here.”

Louise sighed. “I get the message. One question though? Does she even know she has an aunt?” She asked, nodding towards where her brother was standing, niece held up in his arms. The young girl was watching the pair with fascination.

“She didn’t, until now. Unless she thinks you’re some cyborg version of myself sent back in time to save her.” Annette added. Louise couldn’t help but laugh at that idea.

“Well, no need to thank me for saving her from harm. I’ll just go and hide somewhere until our parents are clear of here and the skating is back on.” She turned, giving a wave over her shoulder as she walked away. “Merry Christmas, Sis.”

There was no reply to draw her attention back. Stalking off into the night through the crowds, Louise pulled up a list of coffee shops nearby, a quick queue check narrowing down which one to go to for a quick, hot cup to warm herself with.

She didn’t get too far before a hand caught her arm, pulling her back slightly. The prosthetic limb tensed, servomotors readying to lash out before a warm chuckle came. “Easy, Lou. Big brother or no, I don’t think I can take any more of your dead arm punches now.”

“Nate.” She said simply, looking up at her brother. A small line of scars could just be seen peeking out from his hairline, remnants of major surgery. “How’s your head?”

“It’s better. I don’t forget the little things as much as I used to. Like my manners. Coffee?” He asked, gesturing to a nearby shop. There was still a slight tremble to his hand as he pointed, a remnant from his past injuries.

Louise tapped the side of her head. “It’s busy, I found one nearby that’s tucked away, quieter. Don’t you have to wait for They Who Must Be Obeyed?” She joked.

“I’ve not seen you in… twelve, thirteen-”

“Fourteen,” she supplied.

“-years.” Nate grinned. “Besides, I needed an escape from ‘nette telling Grace that she was saved by a cyborg her from the future.”

“Huh, anything to avoid saying she has a sister.” Louise chuckled, her heart not entirely in it. Nate slipped his arm around hers.

“Lead on. Let’s get some coffee, then you can tell me all about what’s been going on these past…”

“Fourteen,” Louise offered again.

Nate laughed. “-years.”

The coffee shop she had found was nestled away from the general crowd of shoppers, and it didn’t take too long for an order to be placed and a booth to be found to sit in. Nate whistled as Louise slipped off her coat, revealing the advanced military cybernetics she had for arms and legs, her torso covered by a side-buttoned up woollen top in crimson, the wool soft and weave thick. Her dark hair caught up in a ponytail, she brushed it back behind her after having it nestled on her shoulder under her jacket.

“You look dangerous, Lou.” He grinned, settling opposite her in the booth. “They’ve served you well?”

“Definitely, with some upgrades over the years. I’m decorated.”

“I see no tinsel or baubles.” He joked, nudging at her leg with a foot. “What did you win?”

“The United Nations Armed Forces Golden Eagle for Marksmanship, the Platinum Cheetah for Exceptional Scouting, and the Red Tiger for Safeguarding Non-Combatants. Among others.” She said proudly, removing a dataslate from her pocket to upload the images of her medals to.

Nate was grinning as he looked over the various awards, commendations and medals his little sister had received in service. “Nice collection, but it still doesn’t beat my UNAF Purple Heart, though.”

“Any medal that requires me getting major head trauma is one I don’t want to receive.” She joked, leaving her hand across the table. “I earned them for you though.”

Nate closed his hand around hers, stroking his thumb along the edge of her plasti-steel opposable digit. “You didn’t have to.”

“I did. And I would have anyway, Nate. I always wanted more from life than private education and some desk job pushing large figures. I made a difference in the Army. I just had even more reason to excel after your injuries.”

“And now you’re in the Police Force?”

“Cybernetic Response Unit Officer, stationed in Tranquillity City.” She beamed with pride.

Nate’s smile could have lit the darkest room up. “I always said you were destined for the stars, Lou. You really have excelled. Why-” He paused as the waitress brought their tray over, taking one of the cups before continuing, “are you back here though for the holidays?”

“I come back every year, when possible. It’s the first holiday allotment I book off.”

“But why?”

Louise shrugged. “It’s tradition.”

“To loiter around Providence instead of spending time with your friends and colleagues?”

Taking a long sip of coffee, she shook her head. “I only spend a couple of days here, then I meet up with some folks from the Unit, back on the old base.”

“Surprised you’ve not found yourselves some dashing so-and-so to cuddle up with under the space-Christmas-tree.” He teased, squeezing her hand.

“I haven’t. Well, there is this one guy I like, but I don’t want to rush anything. We’re partners, so…”

“Ahh, say no more. Well, about that. What’s he like?”

Louise grinned, hefting her cup of coffee up. “Tall, dark and strong. Ex-Military, too.”

“How times change, I remember when your type was playful blonde girls.” Nate grinned, before furrowing his brow. “Or was that red-heads?”

“Close enough, she was strawberry blonde. How about you?”

“Going steady. I met her at my neurotherapy course. She’d be here, but she’s off in Leipzig with her family at the moment. She’s helped as much as the therapy we’ve been doing has.”

She smiled across at him. “Is she a fellow patient, or are you a sucker for an authority figure.”

“The former. You’ll have to meet her some time.” Nate insisted. “But… we’ve got thirteen years to catch up on.”

Squeezing his hand, she gulped a mouthful of coffee down and nodded. “Fourteen.”

It was snowing heavily now as they waited for the taxi to arrive. Despite the cold, her internal heating systems warmed her hands up to the point that she could keep the chill from her brother’s fingers. “I promise you, Nate, I’ll keep in touch.”

“You better, Lou. We’ve lost too many years because of family feuds. And I’ll make sure Grace knows she has a cool aunt who stops crime on the Moon. On the sly, though. You know how ‘nette can get.”

“I know.”

“There is one little problem though.” Nate sighed, shaking his head. Flakes of snow floated down onto his shoulders.

“What’s that?”

“I didn’t get you a present.” He lamented.

“It’s all right. I didn’t get you anything either.” She grinned, ankles and feet adjusting to her nearest approximation of ‘tip-toes’ so she could kiss him on the cheek. “This’ll do though.”

Nate returned the kiss, before sighing. “I’d do the special big brother lifting hug but… you’re heavy. Wild deer heavy. I’d pull something.” He grinned.

“Cheeky.” She laughed, lightly thwapping at his arm. “But almost true.” She said with a flex of her arms. “Here’s your taxi.”

“What are you going to do now?” He asked, flagging it down with a raised hand.

“Me? I’m going to do what I do every year at this time.” She smiled, getting the taxi door for him. “I’m going to skate.”

Carefully and a little stiffly climbing into the rear of the cab, Nate looked up at her and grinned. “Have fun, have a great Christmas, keep in contact and most importantly?” He paused for dramatic effect. “Don’t break the ice again, Heffalump.”

Laughing loudly, Louise playfully swatted at his arm again. “Get him out of here.” She said to the taxi driver, adding a fairly hefty tip to the fare she was paying for. “And have a good Christmas.”

“Will do, Miss. I’ll get him home safe for you.”

With a nod of appreciation, she stepped back, closing the door on Nate. He looked up at her through the window, waving gently as the electric engine of the car whined as it pulled away.

Louise waved until the cab was out of sight. Brushing a few tears from her cheeks with a stroke of her thumb, she started off towards Waterplace Park again with arms wrapped tightly around her chest, hoping to keep the warmth inside for as long as possible.

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