Re: The Show Must Go Off

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Herr D

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 . . .