April 12, 2012
In the next several nanoseconds, GameFace had to work overtime. I was actually panicking. Several of my subroutines kept running without me. ESO in particular. Several Enforcers were pinged with the same question: "Can you i.d. this man?" It went out with an attachment. I hadn't actually ever decoded their graphics compression for stills. One of my decoders began automatically. StayNeur was aggressively scanning the wall. And coming up with an explanation. 'Implanted hardware in all sites inactive for long period of time.'
ALL sites? That snapped me out of it. What all was IN here? I kicked it into rapid scan mode and began to formulate a reply.
"You have an i.d. scanner in the wall?" It sounded rather inane, but that was actually important.
Jenko smiled absently. Somehow he looked completely different. "I have the works of an entire Enforcer uniform in the wall." He twisted his hunched neck slightly to the right. "Identify," he said to his wallscreen. He sounded different too. What was going on?
His wallscreen showed my full legal name, charges, date of entry into the BMPS system, two deaths to my credit, trading status as active, mining quota as fulfilled, and three paragraphs about how I was suspected of an uncertain number of murders, thefts, and possibly worse. Then it stated I was to be considered dangerous unarmed, uncooperative to authorities, and possibly protected by The Six.
And that's when I got the report from a droid I didn't even know existed. It explained almost everything.
\\END TEXTBURST \\ROBOTARM:ADDON:LOC314
April 12, 2012
The Show Must Go Off–part twenty-four
\\FORMATMAINT \\MARKBEGIN \\LOCPREP
When I had 'loaned' Thrash the assembler droid, I'd added a sort of 'shunt' to it's software, enabling it to go unidentified as a separate machine even while carrying on separate functions. So when I'd sent out for Thrash's batter, I'd looked for a task being executed by an assembler droid with no machine i.d. Being in a panic, I'd not coded very tightly. So I'd found another assembly droid without an i.d. I was in enough of a state, what with a gun pointed at my face, that I almost postponed processing the data. That decision saved my life.
The assembler droid I hadn't known about was running on it's last few hours of battery. Those batteries sometimes hold a charge for ten years or more. I was bouncing the signal to try to triangulate it's position when it completed reporting the nature of it's failure.
WITHIN CAM RANGE OF GOAL. DID NOT REACH CACHE. LAST ARMATURE CEASED FUNCTION. POWER CONSERVATION MODE 3 HOURS AND 17 MINUTES REMAINING.
Cache?! Maybe it was something valuable? I could dig it out with another droid and buy my life with it? I sent it the simple command: CAM SEND and almost instantly realized what was up. It was an image in greenscale, obviously a night-vision filter, partially blocked by a mangled aluminum spar. Probably the same spar that had broken the bot. The image was of a mangled obsolete jumpership chassis full of freeze-dried human bodies. One of them had a spine bent almost double.
GameFace kept me looking like I wasn't surprised or preoccupied. I glanced at the wall 'casually.' "Was it an Enforcer I knew?"
Jenko--who obviously wasn't really Jenko--said "He 'disappeared' when we did." AH. Confirmation. I nodded. Sometimes the best way to save a badly failing bluff is to act like you still believe it. "Are you going to tell me who YOU really are? I hadn't planned on actually meeting any of you." Here he snorted. "I thought you didn't want to." He blinked hard and too fast for me to move.
I was scanning the image for clues of identity. "I don't really know all I could about The Six. You obviously aren't The Surgeon. Did he replace your ENTIRE spine? Impressive. No one else has ever done that!" And I smiled at him past the gun in my face. All I needed was about another minute.
April 12, 2012
I could see doubt in his eyes. He couldn't quite believe I was in contact with The Six. But he was beginning to believe I believed it. He needed more to think about if I was going to slow him down enough. He was already about a percent slower.
"My spine is my own. The Surgeon just altered it." he finally said.
"Pretty good cover," I said, slowing my speech by another tenth of a percent. "No one suspects you. Not even with me rooming with you. Is he going to put it back someday? Maybe after the revolution?"
He startled. "Revolution!? We're not starting a revolution!"
I GameFaced quiet but utter confusion. "I know YOU'RE not. Thrash and his buddies are. --But you did have Upclose help them."
He let his surprise show. "Who is Thrash?"
"You know, the firework setter?" I GameFaced a slow, dawning doubt with confusion. "Are they not keeping you up to date? If you need—"
He brought the gun slightly closer. "The Six are dead."
I blinked at him, cocked my head to one side. "They type pretty well for dead guys. --Or did you mean you're not really with them anymore?" It was at that moment I gained access to Enforcer suit maintenance. The files only showed one Enforcer as disappearing the month The Six did. My nearest cleaning bot had received a maintenance arm and new software and was in the service shaft on it's way, looking for the way between the walls. I had to time the ventilation patterns to cover the noise.
"I mean I killed them."
I looked at him with the most doubtful expression I could call up. This was it. I had to shut off GameFace and con him without electronic assistance. All my processing time was needed for saving my life. "You mean you killed Rack and Epi? How long ago?"
"No." He was savoring this. I raised the airflow and sped up the bot.
"You killed the unnamed one? What? What are you talking about?"
He smiled. "I killed ALL of them. And now I'll kill you." He sighted down the gun.
Realizing I was running short on time, I did the only thing I thought I could pull off on such short notice without assistance. I started laughing at him. "Hehhheh. YOU?" More laughing. My StayNeur processor bounced a signal from an array of unused wallscreens to the buried assembly droid, through the i.d. tags in the buried chassis, back to a secret segment of server I'd partitioned away. "Don't you know about The Shade's hobby?"
"The Shade's hobby was torture. That's how he got me to agree to being a hunchback." His eyes were dead-cold. Yikes.
"NOT THAT hobby. THE OTHER hobby!" Time for the big bluff. "Onscreen, please. Picture of mass grave, angle 1A."
He backed up to the bathroom door, reached in, pulled out a small mirror. As he began to look, I had green circles and captions forming. There wasn't time for real i.d.'s. I circled ten tags and wrote 'unknown' five times. Then 'Jenko,' 'Epi,' 'Your Worst Nightmare,' 'Rack,' 'The Surgeon.' The only two I was sure of was Jenko and The Surgeon.
His eyes narrowed, "That's not possible." Then he startled, realizing the print was being written backwards on the screen. "The Shade was in those ten."
I pulled up a text box and had 'The Shade' start typing.
Your spine was my idea, you know. I thought you died on the table.
I love making doubles. I knew if you could be accomplished that we could hide forever.
You killed the man I had doubling myself before I knew what the others' new faces looked like.
If you release my man, I will allow you to bargain for your life.
There is nowhere you can hide now.
I smiled at him bigger and shifted slightly toward the middle of the hammock. He followed me with the gun. Calculations were complete; drilling had begun. All that remained was to find out whether my calculations were actually correct.
April 12, 2012
He moved back a little and turned his head slightly. I got a bulletin from the cleaning bot about how it's power was draining too fast. Those batteries were never well made, and they didn't have enough to power a maintenance arm anyway. Luckily I'd already sent for a backup. He studied the screen with his peripheral vision doubtfully. "How did he know to write backwards?"
"This place is bugged. He probably figured it out because he would use a mirror too." I nodded at the screen. A certain portion of server had finished processing another description of remains and extrapolated the results. I went ahead and put it up. 'Higgy' in green replaced one unknown. Then I realized I had a bigger problem. Who really was who? Higgy and Jenko and The Surgeon were certain, but the pile of i.d.s didn't necessarily go with the bones? What if some of The Six really HAD survived? What if one of them was the fake Jenko in front of me, lying to me? They were all sociopaths, so my StayNeur and augmented software wouldn't be able to tell. If The Surgeon had reached the point he was able to alter a spine, then maybe the work I was doing was irrelevant. Inwardly cursing, I sent a team of droids to dig their way there, though it would take forever, to do chemical testing on the bones themselves. I needed to get back on task before this guy shot me. "So who are you, then?"
"I never had a screen name. I never even learned my prisoner number. They took me right out of the comaship."
Hey! That was supposedly how the unnamed one joined up. They took him and didn't have to break him because he was already so messed up. He supposedly volunteered for everything they tested out if it didn't reduce his benefit to the group. Voluntary unnecessary surgery. Torture methods. Must have taken the thrill out of it for the sadists. . . "I mean your name; mine is Oscaw Huver Miller."
He paused like he really didn't remember. "Clay," he said, "Clay Billins." I sent it off. Why not? Maybe he was telling the truth.
"You might not have much to bargain with."
I pointed at the text box. "For your life? You don't exactly live like a king." His eyes flicked to the floor. "But I know what they value these days. I could save you some time in negotiations, maybe." This was back to first principles. When you don't have the goods to sell in the first place and things look bad, make sure what you don't have to sell sounds more expensive without hurry or making nice-nice. At least now I knew where he put his wealth.
"That is, of course, unless you're going to make sure we both die by killing me." I nodded at the text box again--
StayNeur activated at machine speed, preventing me from reacting to the sound or the fall. I was machine-still for the fall to the couch and the program I'd written kicked in so I slid off the couch as if I had no bones. The Enforcer uniform's shoulder cannon had fired right through the wall, deflected the calculated amount toward straight through, severed my hammock rope, and hit Clay in three spots on the torso, one in the lower neck, and one through the left side of his nose. He was probably dead before the exit wounds started blowing outward. My bots had done well.
I nullified the alarms as they started. No record of Enforcer electronics booting up would do. I was halfway through composing an arbitration scenario where Jenko had started a fight when I realized no one was reporting the noise. A quick check told me the only people anywhere near here were listening to fight footage at high volume. I had the bots take down the whole wall panel, had them clean the room and strip the mechanisms off the Enforcer's suit. He was mummified inside. Enforcer number-end GL8. My bots dragged GL8 and Clay's bodies out into the corridors. An assembly droid finally caught up and removed everything of potential interest from the bodies. I had the implants sterilized and hidden in the wall for when I could sell them. The suit, now empty, went right back where it was with a charged up battery, just in case. I hacked in and had Jenko will me his life and ask me to guard his room while he went off to do some claim-jumping. One camera malfunction was enough to cover him not walking to the jumper, which I sent on a collision course with an automated patrol at high speed. Cleanup was definitely getting easier.
Thrash never made it to the ship he was supposed to steal. An unscheduled morgue worker with a camera phobia had shoved him out an airlock. When the revolution finally came it was no big deal. The Enforcers weren't willing to die for anyone who didn't even want them back. Upclose, Chugger, and revolutionaries A through C died along with at least seven agitators, fifteen Enforcers, and at least twenty disinterested parties. Most people completely forgot about the cave-in and Door 23.
The truth was simple enough. The first BMPS workers hadn't ever separated their recyclables, just dumped it and made landfill out of it for an external wall over that whole area of V-gamma-7. Clay had been mining it. He'd caused the whole thing and was only just sending his bot to make sure his bodies were still buried. I used a digital composite to fake poor footage of a terrorist attack by revolutionaries that died in the cave-in anyway and sent droids in to remove all the wrong bodies just in case. Clay had almost five hundred pounds of gold under Jenko's floor. Pity it wasn't iron or something else really valuable up here.
Some people can't adapt completely, right?
I took up where he'd left off. Did it responsibly, though. Geodesic structure of compacted blocks and REAL junk ore. I was genuinely scared for over a year when I found out there was never any real Clay Billins. No one of that name was ever put in the BMPS system at all. Never convicted. There may never have been one. I may have been talking to the unnamed member of The Six for real. The i.d. tag he wore was Jenko's of course, and I was never able to match up any more of the remains. He had limed them and ruined any chance I had of figuring out more of them. Five of The Six could not be really accounted for. The i.d. tags beside the bodies were of hookers. Hookers! We'll never know what happened to them, I guess. This place is dangerous enough without worrying about them. I have my food delivered by bots. Same for everything else. I don't leave this room and even Gibb isn't welcome. He could be one of them . . .
\\END TEXTBURST \\ROBOTARM:ADDON:LOC314
April 12, 2012
Wow. It's finally over. YIPPEE!
--So, does anyone need anything explained?
January 4, 2012
Don't think so, but I might go back and re-read it from the start. It's been a while, and I kind of lost track in the middle.
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April 12, 2012
So I never made pix for this story . . . I suppose I should before I write another?
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