I should warn my readers that this next installment in the “Stories from Cal Metro” series contains a discussion of suicide and depression. If you feel like this story would be upsetting or traumatic for you, please do not feel obliged to continue reading.
Code Blue, Call It In, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 1,420
Blazing down Veteran Avenue at near sixty miles an hour, Grace felt the world slide in and out of focus around her. Seated low on her autocycle, her body shifted in slight degrees left and right as she wove a deadly pattern through traffic. Thankfully, her side-mounted amber lights were doing most of the work for her. Trucks and sedans pulled to the right, with only a few stragglers to slip around on her path.
“Grace, it’s confirmed.” Taylor’s voice was sharp in her ear. She gritted her teeth against the feedback emanating from her neural intercom; the implant was more trouble than it was worth on cloudy nights like this one. “His note went live on the hotboards two minutes ago.”
“Shit on me.” Grace pulled back on the autocycle, turning what would have been a hard right onto Wilshire into a softer curve that barely missed hitting the nearest street corner. “What’s his status look like?”
“Code Blue. Lab boys can’t find any trace of a desire to take anyone else along for the ride.”
Another speed bump came and went, sending a shockwave through the auto-cycle. Grace hardly noticed it. “Got a location yet?”
“Uploading it to your HUD now.”
A translucent color scheme rippled into view across the interior of her rider’s helmet. Grace saw a grid map of Cal Metro take shape in the space between her eyes and the plastic windshield. When she blinked her left eye, the map auto-focused into a multi-block overview of Wilshire. A golden line highlighted the road ahead for her, complete with a moving dot. ETA and velocity metrics scrolled by on the right-hand side of her vision, just out of view to avoid distracting her.
Grace muttered another curse under her breath. Her hands tightened on the throttle as she completed a turn on the next side street. “Okay. Prep for medical evac and cleanup crew. I’ll be there in five.”
At the height of the Crash, emergency services had fallen apart across the entire Los Angeles-San Francisco Metropolitan Corridor. While this normally meant disaster and widespread human suffering, it was fortunate that human beings could produce their own solutions given enough time and imagination.
To help survivors and refugees find a haven from the worst flooded coastlines and droughts in the Central Valley, some cities had become Enclaves. Self-governing, self-sustaining communities that pooled together the skills of its inhabitants during the long downturn. Whether governed by the latest AI or old-fashioned human consensus-building, these cities had become a beacon of hope in a failing culture.
But not every refugee found their peace and prosperity in the Enclaves. They faced the darkness around them and within them, with no respite around. And when they couldn’t contribute, they faced a crisis worse than any Crash that the country could experience.
Enter Saint Juliana Sobrino, the founder of the Minerva Corps. Within a few years, she and her team of guardian angels had caused a massive downturn in the country’s suicide rate. Inside of five years, everyone up and down the Metro Corridor knew to steer clear of a pair of amber lights mounted on a motorcycle in the dead of night.
“And so,” as the group’s charter read, “let every rider be equipped with a blanket for comfort, water for nourishment, open hands for peace, and the blessings of Saint Dymphna.”
If you were a rider of the Minerva Corps, you knew what was in your kit. Every time the call came in, you crossed yourself and hoped to fly fast enough to make a difference.
Grace Lee Anderson had been a Minerva rider for six years straight. And she wasn’t about to let another soul slip away tonight.
By the time she made it to San Vincente, the crowd had already gathered on the sidewalk below. A single CMPD cruiser was parked out front, with officers attempting to hold the pedestrians back. Grace didn’t even bother with the formalities of her entrance. Yanking hard on the brakes, she came to a halt and parked her autocycle a few feet away from the cruiser.
She left the amber lights on a constant blink, which gave her some space from the crowd. Grace unbuttoned the top of her jacket and removed her helmet, tucking it under one arm.
When she looked up, she caught a glimpse of the boy in question. Her HUD was still active, flashing all the relevant details across her right eye in virtual space. Date of birth, hometown, favorite hobbies, social media posts, and so on.
After a burst of static, Taylor’s voice came back on. “Okay, I’ve got a back channel to his comm implant. You’re good to go.”
Grace didn’t answer him. After all, he wasn’t the one who needed help.
Taking a deep, quiet breath, she held it and waited two seconds. Enough time to clear away the jitters and let her instincts take over.
“Michael?” She lifted a hand to silence the nearby police and bystanders. “Can you hear me?”
“H-hello?” From this far below the apartment rooftop, Grace couldn’t see the kid so clearly. A small, quivering silhouette. Nothing more. “Who is this?”
“My name’s Grace. I’m a friend.”
“Bullshit. I don’t have any friends.”
“Yes, you do. You’ve got me.”
“Lady, you don’t even know me. Nobody does. I’m a fucking idiot—”
“I read your note. The one you left on the hotboards.”
He paused. The silhouette at the top of the building went still, and her muscles tensed in response.
“It’s just a note,” he finally said. “Doesn’t mean anything.”
“It means something to me,” Grace insisted. The more she spoke, the easier it became to keep the fear out of her voice. She’d done this so many times now. Talked to so many kids, so many adults and elderly over their troubles.
Tonight was not going to be another failure.
“I’m not here to bullshit you. I came here for one reason, Michael. To meet you. To talk to you.” She paused for a second, long enough to scan her memory of the datasheet that Taylor had pulled for her earlier. “I understand that you’ve been out of work for a while now. And your family disowned you because of what happened with Fredo.”
A sob broke out from the other end of the channel. “He… Jesus, he was too good for me. And my mother… she wouldn’t even look me in the eye! What did I ever do to her?”
“Nothing.” Grace twitched her left eyelid up and down in a single precise motion. “Michael, can you do me a favor? Would you please look at the datastream I’m sharing with you?”
“Why? Are you gonna give me more of that Christian propaganda, too? Tell me suicide’s a sin? I already knew that—”
“Please, just look for me. All right?”
He fell quiet, which was always the worst part of the work. Grace rattled off a pair of Hail Marys in her head in the time it took Michael to absorb the information on his Scout. If she recalled correctly, he was wearing a MadisonTech B211 Scout visor. It had been a Christmas present from his sister Kelly.
“How did you get this?” he asked. “You couldn’t possibly have known about us.”
“Fredo gave me these,” Grace answered. “He’s sorry about what happened, too. I think, if you gave him another chance, you two might find a way to be happy together.”
Even as she lied without missing a beat, heat rose in her cheeks. Lately, Taylor was pulling private user information too quickly from all the right sources, consent forms be damned. One of these days, his antics were going to get the entire Corps in serious trouble with the CMPD Network Security Unit.
But until then, she thanked God for daredevils like him.
“Oh, Jesus…” Michael’s voice was shaky. She could feel the tipping point inside him. “I… what do I do now?”
“Listen carefully. Take a step back from the rooftop, Michael.” She paused to check a stream of updates in her HUD. “There are two EMTs on their way upstairs as we speak. All you need to do is wait for them and you’ll be fine. I promise.”
“Okay. Okay, I…” Michael swallowed; a sound that was louder than Grace’s fast-beating heart. “Can I keep talking to you, Grace? I’m really, really sorry about all this…”
Closing her eyes, Grace smiled. “You sure can, Michael. I’m listening.”
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