Friday, November 19, 2010

week thirty-two: ccu

The Year 2249 (Approximated)

At something about twelve-forty in the morning, Officer Terrence Vicar sat in the passenger seat of the Cadillac and looked forward to the end of his beat. He and his new partner, Mick Janus, had barely spoken the entire day. It wasn't because they disliked one another, it was because there was little left to talk about. And both were so tired. Their shifts had begun at two in the afternoon and lasted until two in the morning. And, unfortunately, very little actually happened during their beats. Often speaking, they would be following leads, but other days, such as these, there was nothing.

The streets were mostly empty, except for the occasional hoodlum or crazy person. In this part of East London, you would have to be crazy to be out at this hour. The alleyways ran rampant with the desperate and the greedy. Vicar always hoped that he would run into (and bust) some crime or another, maybe a mugging, but criminals had gotten smart and knew even when an undercover unit such as Vicar's was around. Even so, common crime was not his job. No, Vicar's job was to put down cyborgs.

In the year 2198, the first fully-autonomous and technically intelligent computer system came online. The system eventually created software which rendered all computer technology it could access under its control. By this point, most of the world was dependent upon robotic and cybernetic technology. A war broke out between human beings and the automatons. After forty years of long, bloody war, humanity won out. The technology to create intelligent artificial beings was completely destroyed and severe legal limitations were placed on what technology could be created. Some of the robotic forces, however, survived. Since the technology to create more autonomous cybernetic beings was lost, the remnants needed to seek new hardware. It was quickly discovered that the only remaining hardware capable of supporting intelligent life was the human body.

The computer systems found ways to adapt the human brain and its body to cybernetic technology. The earliest cyborgs disguised themselves as humans and then kidnapped human beings in order to install the necessary hardware. These humans were taken over by robotic consciousnesses; possessing little to nothing of their former personalities. Cyborg human beings are faster, smarter, stronger, and generally better than organic human beings. To the common observer, cyborgs are completely indistinguishable from normal humans. There were ticks here and there but, generally speaking, converts could blend into the background very well.

When searching for a new person to convert, cyborgs would generally search for an able-bodied someone with minimal connection to other humans. Since much of person would be lost, family members or friends would pick up on the fact that they were dealing with a cyborg. If little human contact remained, there was a smaller chance of the cyborg being discovered. Many believed that since the brain was mostly left intact, that the human inside remained. Officials shrug this off as wishful thinking. There is no known technique for converting someone back from being a cyborg. It has never formally been confirmed or denied whether it is possible or not.

“Need some joe?” Janus asked as he gently turned the steering wheel. He kept his eyes on the road. The drunks tend to come out around this hour. It never became uncommon for them to be the cause of motor accidents.

Vicar replied, “I could use something, yeah.” He had actually just been thinking about how a shot of caffeine would help him get through the night. Janus turned the car in the direction of a gas station.

Of course, the biggest question asked about the cyborgs is why. Why do they kidnap and convert humans? The answer is simple and most easily answered in the form of another question: why does any species try and reproduce? The only way for the cybernetic race to multiply is to assimilate organic life. Just as natural as the human sex drive is the cybernetic need to convert humans. The other “why” question about cyborgs is why there is no attempt to coexist with them. The answer is very simple: fear; both a logical and an illogical one. Logically speaking, if the cyborgs were to gain sufficient number, they could attempt another uprising. Humanity may not be quite as lucky in a second war. Illogically, it was simple fear, and even, as some might put it, racism. Of course, the overwhelming majority stood unsympathetic to the cybernetic cause.

Janus pulled into a 7-11 and stopped at a gas pump, “Grab me a coffee, black.” He shut down the engine. “I'll tank us up.”

Vicar got out of the car just as Janus did. He asked, “Anything to eat?”

“No, I'm good,” Janus put his credit card into the machine.

“I'll get you a donut,” Vicar told him as he turned to head into the convenience store.

“I said I don't want anything, boss,” Janus argued.

“Trust me, kid, you'll get hungry as soon as you see me eating,” Vicar didn't turn to face his partner as he said these words. To him, this was fact and whatever argument Janus gave wouldn't matter.

Janus had no retort; he knew it was best not to argue with his partner, who was a good twenty years his senior. Instead, he pumped his gas and minded his own business.

Vicar pushed open the glass doors to the convenience store. The interior was run down and disorganized. A few products were on the floor, the paint was peeling, and the floor dirty. Vicar had even noted graffiti sprawled on the outside windows. This truly was a bad part of town. The clerk behind the counter reclined in a chair and read a newspaper as he stroked his thick, bushy, black beard. He gave Vicar almost no heed whatsoever.

There were four other people in the room. The first three were a group of youths standing around the beer section. They talked to themselves and laughed loudly at their crappy inside jokes. Each of them had a piercing somewhere on their face and their unsleeved arms were tattooed like mad. Vicar could only assume that they were in some kind of gang. He reasoned that he could arrest them for loitering if he really wanted, but that would be about it. And that was just idle, stupid fantasy. Vicar had no desire to arrest anyone whatsoever and just wanted this calm, dreary night to end.

He grabbed a pair of stout cups and started filling them with the lukewarm coffee from the machine. As soon as they were filled, he realized that there was only one lid. He turned to the attendant and said, “Hey! There's only one lid.”

No answer.

“Hey!” Vicar exclaimed. “There's only one lid over here! I need another.”

The clerk replied, “We are out.”

“You don't have any in the back?” Vicar cocked his eyebrow.

“No, sir,” the clerk shifted his newspaper.

Vicar rolled his eyes. He very briefly fantasized about whipping out his badge and gun to force another lid out of him. But that was just another idle, stupid dream.

The fourth person in the room was a lean, blond woman who read a copy of The Weekly Girl. She was only barely attractive; striking maybe, but beautiful was simply out of the question. And it was clear that she knew this; the cleavage on her top said it all. She looked up to Vicar and said, “He's always like that.”

“Is he?” Vicar snapped the lid onto the first cup and then decided he didn't want coffee anymore. Instead, he walked over to the refrigerators and pulled out a Coke. The teenaged gangsters paid him no heed.

“Yeah, I don't usually come at night cuz of him,” she said as she twirled her hair in between her fingertips. She put the magazine back in its spot and approached Vicar. He immediately reasoned that she was a hooker. “What brings you out here? Never seen you around.”

“Work,” Vicar opened up the glass case containing the donuts. He grabbed a pair of the regular glazed variety and put them in a box. He would later realize that he should have gotten a half dozen; more bang for your buck. “My partner's out pumping the gas.”

“Oh, so you're a...”

“Cop,” that's when Vicar started getting suspicious. In his mind, he went through his mental checks when trying to spot a cyborg. She fit the usual bill: athletic, doesn't stand out too much, lonely. “Sometimes we get hungry.”

She smiled and suddenly lost interest in him, “That's nice.”

Vicar stepped over to the counter, only to realize that the teenagers were finally buying a case of beer a piece. He stood there in line and watched the young lady became more and more nervous. So, Vicar decided to test her, “You from around here?”

“Oh, yeah, I live real close,” she replied with a quiver in her voice. She avoided eye contact, which was natural. Cyborg eyes had a strange tendency to continuously expand and contract. It's a subtle tell, but a damning one. They did this because their hardware had them constantly analyzing visual information at almost every level of detail.

“Know any good restaurants?” Vicar realized then that both of his hands were full. If he needed his weapon, he was doomed.

She bit her lip as she made for the door, “Look, mister, I gotta run.”

“Oh, yeah, where do you have to be in such a hurry?” Vicar figured then that he could stall her at least until he could set his things down on the counter. The first gang member had paid, the second was paying, and the third waited.

“I just,” she stammered. “I just have to go.”

The second finished as Vicar asked, “You sure?”

“Yeah, I'm sure,” she pressed her body against the glass door and it opened. She looked right into his eyes. There it was: her irises flicked like a camera lens. There could be no doubt.

Vicar debated pursuing her at all. Perhaps he could just call it a night. No, there's a job to do. He dropped the coffee and donuts, then reached to his back where his holster rested. Just as he felt his fingers touch the wood, the woman broke in a straight sprint. As the refreshments hit the floor, Vicar's Smith & Wesson Magnetic Police Special swung out in his hands. He took aim at the young woman and fired a shot. Because of the high kick of a magnetically accelerated bullet, he only got the one shot. The glass in the door shattered before blood splattered from her arm as she stumbled forward, but ultimately kept running. He took aim to fire again, but realized that he was at a gas station; a major incident could happen if he hit a pump. He slid the pistol back into his holster and bolted after her.

Janus only watched with wide eyes she ran by. Vicar shouted after him, “Don't just stand there, get her!” Janus shook his head and then snapped back into readiness. The cybernetic woman had already gotten herself down the road a decent ways. “Take the side road, try and cut her off! I'll keep after her!”

“Yeah, right,” Janus replied as he took off. He eventually left Vicar's sight as he ran into the adjacent road.

Vicar knew to keep her in his sights. A cyborg would be far too fast for him to actually catch on foot; not to mention the incredible endurance they typically possessed. Every cyborg is different; they usually don't have the exact same upgrades, but it could always be assumed that they were physically superior to humans. She ran, pushing her way through the few people who hung around, clutching her bleeding arm. Vicar considered drawing his pistol and shooting again, but she was too far to guarantee a shot. Plus, there were innocents standing around. Hitting them would guarantee a suspension... and a headache.

Vicar's plan then became to rely on Janus coming through. Janus had only been with Vicar for a week and so he doubted whether or not he could trust the kid. Janus had never killed a cyborg before and he was fresh out of training for the Cybernetic Contingency Unit. Vicar seriously doubted that they would get this woman, but failing is a vital part of learning. It took Vicar seven months before he logged his first kill. Twenty-seven years later, his scratch record is up to ninety-three.

Vicar once felt remorse for his killing, but eventually overcame this guilt. They were just machines, after all; dangerous ones at that. Vicar never subscribed to the McCarthianistic kill-all philosophy that most in his unit shared. In fact, he no longer shared much enthusiasm. Being in the CCU was a job and really not a thing more. Vicar was in his fifties; far too late to find another profession. There was a time when he had a desk job at the CCU academy, but he found that even worse than cyborg hunting.

Suddenly, the woman turned into an alleyway. Vicar followed her in to find her standing there frozen. On the other side of the woman was Janus, who trained his very modern Colt MatchMag Semi on their target. He just stood there, shaking. Vicar whipped out his own pistol and shouted, “Janus, do it!”

There was no answer. The woman looked back to Vicar, frozen in terror.

“Janus!” Vicar pulled back his hammer. “Come on, shoot her!”
The youthful of the two shook; nothing coming from his pistol or his mouth.

Vicar rolled his eyes and then pulled his trigger. He watched as the round slammed center mass into the woman. She lost her balance and fell to the floor, only to pick herself back up again and run at Janus, who still did nothing. Vicar fired again, this time piercing her shoulder. The woman still charged, this time grabbing the boy. He tried his best to shake her off. He cried out in fear.

Vicar took careful aim and then fired his fourth and final round. The back of her blond head exploded in a cloud of blood. She finally fell limp; dead.

“What the hell is wrong with you, kid?” Vicar put his pistol away and ran over to the dead woman. He checked to make sure of two things. One, that she was actually dead. Two, that she was actually a cyborg. Both, fortunately, were true.

Janus holstered his pistol and took two steps back.

“Hey, kid, what the hell happened?” Vicar stood and wiped sweat from his brow.

“You hit me,” Janus suddenly noticed the pain. He clutched his arm.

“Well, you should have taken the shot when you had the chance! You had a clear shot, why didn't you take it?!” Vicar growled.

“I just couldn't!”

Vicar grabbed Janus by the shoulders, “Pull yourself together, man!”

“Boss, sorry,” he looked at his wound. “I don't know what happened back there.”

Vicar looked into his partner's eyes, “Alright, look, don't let that happen again. I won't mention you froze; I'll just say you got caught in my crossfire. How bad is it?”

Wait. Was that...? No, it couldn't be.

“It's just a graze; I'm okay,” Janus said as he bent down to the body. “Looks like you got her good, boss.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Vicar looked at Janus's wound and squinted to confirm what he saw. He saw the glistening of metal inside his partner's arm. And before, he had seen his the dance of his irises. But... how? Why?

“Looks like cleanup's got quite the job ahead of them,” Janus laughed. “Should I phone 'em in?”

With the utmost secrecy, Vicar drew his pistol and said, “No, I'll take care of it.” He pointed the pistol down at his partner's head.

Janus looked up to see down the barrel of Vicar's Smith & Wesson. His breathing snapped to a sprint and formed his lips for his last words. But Vicar denied him these last words. Without hesitation, he pulled the trigger. Once, twice. Blood sprayed all over; Janus' head was left in pieces all over the alleyway.

Vicar wiped the blood from his gun onto his jacket. He popped open the chamber and loaded six fresh rounds as he stood over his dead partner and target. Vicar looked down to see the metal components attached to Janus's brain; there was no doubt that the kid was a cyborg. For just a few moments, Vicar wondered what the hell a cyborg would be doing in the Cybernetic Contingency Unit. He suddenly understood why Janus had failed to take the shot. Somehow, it was much more difficult to kill a fellow. Vicar knew that he would have a problem killing another person.

But that's when he realized that assessment was wrong. Vicar had seen Janus as a person; a pure human being. Only perception changed when he realized that his partner was what they were trained to hunt; trained to kill. The person inside Janus was still the same. It hit Vicar then and there. The person inside. Despite the truth of having killed just another cyborg, Vicar had, in his mind, killed a human being.

Understand, however, that these thoughts lasted very briefly. It wasn't long before he pushed them back into the bowels of his mind and went back into duty mode. He phoned in to the department to get them down for cleanup. Until they arrived, Vicar was stuck there. He sat down against the wall and lost himself to thought. No, it wasn't philosophical thought about the measure of a man, the cost of murder, or the value of life. It wasn't even ramification or guilt. Vicar's thoughts were back to the convenience store. Vicar wondered if the donuts would still be there.

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