Friday, December 31, 2010

week thirty-eight: better off dead

This story is a "prequel" to this one, although the other is meant to be read first. I recommend reading week thirty-two first as it handles most of the exposition and setting.

London, England

The year 2247 (approximated)


“Hello, this Io with RoboLub, the finest makers of-”

“Yeah, I know what you make. Look, you called here last week-”

“Oh, I do apologize, but sir, we have some brand new deals on our best products, including our patented MechLube XL with Nanocleansing technol-”


Io looked up at the clock. Twelve-thirty. She had only to work one more hour....

Luck, it seems, comes only in limited supplies, and, ironically, only comes to those fortunate enough to get it. There are some who are lucky and blessed in abundant amounts. There are some who have exorbitant amounts of money, fame, wealth, or power; such people are inherently very lucky people. These, people, however, are not far from the luckiest of them all. The luckiest, the most fortunate, and the most blessed, are those who have love. Whether it be family love or the more romantic variety, the most fortunate are truly the most loved. Unfortunately, for Io Lewis, her luck ran low.

She had nothing more than a small, two-bedroom apartment in London. Her mother, father, and brother had all passed away in a car accident two years before and since struggled making connections with anyone. Io, however, managed a late shift job as a telephone salesman for a robotic machinery lubrication company that operated in both London and Los Angeles. To save costs, RoboLub, inc, which was originally based in London, had all of its marketing offices based in the English capital. Since Los Angeles was in such a different time zone, RoboLub had to hire late workers such as Io.

Without complaint or a sigh, she looked down at her list of calls for the day and found that she had only one left before she filled her quota for the day. With a faint grin, she pushed back her ash blond hair and dialed in the number.

A man answered, “You've reached Peterson Brothers Robotics Corporation, this is Crius. How may I help you?”

“Hello, this is Io with RoboLub.”


“Yes, we have some exciting offers for you, Mr. Crius!”

“Go ahead, I'll listen.”

“Is your nanite-based lubricant losing effectiveness faster than you'd like? Or do you feel as if you're paying too much for your lubricant?”

“We actually don't use nanotech in our lubricants, Miss Ion.”



“It's Io.”
“Sorry, Io, look our company builds our machinery from scratch and one of our selling points is that we don't use nanites for any purpose. I am looking for a new lubricant, so do you have any offers on any non-nanite lubricant?”

Io cringed, “I'm not allowed to negotiate on the price right now, so you'll have to pay the standard fare on our regular lubri-”

“Well, that's too bad... the company I'm with right now is giving a small discount and I'm going to have to stick with that, Miss Io.”

“Oh, please, I haven't made a single sale all day and-”

“I can't help you. Goodbye.”



Io disconnected her headset and threw her arms down to her side. She looked her reflection on the small mirror by her computer screen and asked, “What's wrong with you Io? Why can't you do this?!” She made very few sales and wondered whether she would make enough off of her commission to keep her apartment.

Suddenly, an all too familiarly raspy voice said, “It's like they're getting ruder, isn't it?” It was the man they all called Echo. Everyone in the office knew that he had a thing for Io... even Io.

“Sometimes,” she sighed as she began collecting her things. “Other times I think it's just me.”

“You think it's just you,” Echo scratched his head. “You heading out?”

“No point in sticking around; I just finished off my list for the day.”

“Yeah, no point, me too,” Echo quivered. It was clear to plenty of people that Echo had never had much of a chance with women and that Io was his best shot. The man tried his best, and Io felt bad for turning him down, but Echo was a good four years older than she was. His belly was growing rotund, his head shined more and more each week with pattern baldness, and he was, frankly, annoying. “Say, why don't I walk you home? It gets dangerous out this late, what with the cyborgs lurking.”

“You're sweet, Echo, but I have an errand to run,” Io stood and put on her jacket.

“An errand? I can go with you; I don't mind,” Echo pleaded.

Io tried her best to be nice, and she hated turning people down, but... “Look, I'm sorry, but I'd rather go alone tonight, alright?”

“Okay, I understand,” he slumped and then turned back to his own desk.

“Hey, you can walk me home another night, okay?” Io tried.

“Yeah, sure, another night.”

Io felt terrible for disappointing him, but she knew that there were better fish in the sea for her. She still had a serviceable figure, her eyes were a pleasing shade, and just a few days ago, a not-so-unattractive man had given her a... look. It may have been nothing, but the prospect was enough to brighten her day. She checked one last time that her computer was off, grabbed her bag, and then left without looking back. She left hurriedly for two reasons. One was because she did not want to see the saddened Echo and another was that her boss terrified her.

Echo looked at his own list and noticed that he still had one more number. He dialed it in and then hung up. Hopefully his boss would only see that he had dialed it and would not notice that he said nothing. This trick usually worked. Echo shut down his computer and then gathered his things. Before making his way out, he stopped over by Io's desk. He was not sure what he was doing; it was simply something he did. But quickly he noticed that she had left behind her hairbrush. He took it and put it in his bag. Echo decided that he would give it to her on the next day. She would be so happy!

Io made her way to the small supermarket between home and work. It was a simple place with really on the necessities of such a store, but it suited her needs. She only needed milk and another canister of MassShake, which was a glorified protein shake. Io did her best to keep in shape, though it was difficult on her budget with such a small place to live and such a messed up schedule. Somehow, she managed.

It was dark out and the store was mostly empty. Io made her way to the back where refrigerators were and searched for the milk. She opened the door glass door and sighed when she discovered that they were out of skim. To herself, she whispered, “Fine, two percent it is.” She took the milk and turned around to find a strange thirty-something man standing behind her, simply staring. “Can I help you?”
He shook his head, “Oh, sorry, I just need to get to the milk.”

“Right,” she grimaced. What a creep... the weirdest thing was shat she had seen him before somewhere. She could not say where.

Io walked away with more fleet to her foot. She found the protein shakes and then stopped to try and find the kind she liked. The brand was MassShake but she specifically wanted the strawberry flavor. It did not take her long to find it. She grabbed the canister and looked to where she had come from to find the man staring at her again. He quickly turned away and acted as though he was doing something else. Io hated being out late at night, but this was, sadly, necessity. So many creeps!

She headed up the check out aisle and handed the cashier her products and credit card. The woman behind the register was almost always there. She and Io never really said anything to one another. As Io pondered this, she looked around the room and again found the man looking at her. When he noticed that Io had seen him, he shook and quickly made his out of the store. “Does he come here often?” Io asked the cashier.

“Beats me, hon,” the cashier handed back the credit card then bagged the groceries. “Come back soon, darlin'.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Io took her things and walked out the door. Outside was the usual scary mess. There were small congregations of men who you knew were gang members and there other out who could only be described as desperate in so many ways. Io felt sorry for them, but knew there was nothing she could do.

It was not long before she arrived at her apartment. She climbed the stairs to the fourth story and opened the door. Home sweet home. Everything was in its place and proper; that is to say that the place was a cluttered mess. Immediately, she made her way to the refrigerator and put the milk inside. She took off her jacket and then sighed. This was life. Yeah.

For a moment, Io stopped and considered what she had left to do. She should probably straighten up, but the more she thought about it, the more she recalled just how tired out she was. It had been just another ordinary long day, but still, she was tired and bed sounded wonderful. She left her main room, which was all at once the living room, dining room, and kitchen, and went into her bedroom. Immediately, she unbuttoned her shirt and let it sink to the floor.

And that was when she realized something was off.

Despite being in the comfort of her own home, she belt bare. Normally when one is improper, but alone and safe, they feel nothing, but Io felt a tinge of embarrassment. It was strange. She still wore her pants and a bra, but felt as if the world had just seen her naked. She shook her head and whispered, “You're going crazy, Io.” With an extra touch of awkwardness, she removed her pants. She simply could not shake that... feeling.

Io shook when she heard the knocking. Without thinking, she grabbed her bathrobe and covered herself. Her face flushed until she realized the person knocking was outside the door. She exhaled and rubbed her head. There was simply no way she could feel more ridiculous about herself and the way she was thinking. “Nobody is watching you, Io. Nobody. You're alone.”

She went to her front door and pulled it right open. To her surprise, standing outside was the strange man from the grocery store. “What- what are you doing here? Who are you?” Io quivered.

“I am sorry,” the man said.

“Wha-?” Suddenly, a firm hand covered her mouth and another her stomach. She fought and squirmed, but the man came in took her arms. Io knew then who was watching her in her apartment. She was not alone after all. Oh, you fool.

She fought until the needle pierced her neck. When it was pulled, she found herself growing weaker and weaker, her eyes getting heavier and heavier. Finally, there was no fight left. Her body gave out and she slipped from consciousness... never to return.

Echo changed his mind. He had to give Io the hairbrush as soon as possible. She would be impressed that he went out of his way to get it to her. And besides, she may need it for tomorrow. He had been by her place once when he had walked her home on one of her first days of work. After that, however, they never did it again. Echo knew how people felt about him. He knew about his weird habit of repeating what people said, but there were some things he could not help. He tried hard to fit in, but some things cannot be changed.

One of the reasons Echo too such a liking to Io was that she was one of the few people who, if she genuinely disliked him, at least had the decency to try and be nice. The people working for RoboLub were all minimum-wagers with attitudes and had no reason to put up a front. Io, however, was different. Many thought Echo was oblivious, but he knew how things were.

He climbed the stairs up to the fourth floor and walked down the hall, but stopped when he got the feeling that he was in the wrong building or the wrong floor. A strange man pushed a metal crate into the room he thought was Io's. The door closed behind him. Had she moved?

Echo pressed on anyway. Perhaps that was a delivery man of some kind and- but wait, what kind of delivery man makes his deliveries at this hour? And then it hit him. He rushed to her door and put his ear to it. He wasn't sure what he listening for, but he would know it, wouldn't he? He heard nothing more than the odd rattling around and almost decided that he was being paranoid... but then he heard the soft whirr of a drill.

Better safe the sorry.

He whipped out his mobile phone and dialed in the police.

“Emergency services.”

“Yes, hello, I think my friend is being turned into a cyborg and-” a firm hand took his cell phone and then crumpled it. Echo turned to find the strange man looking into his eyes. He gulped and then fainted. He was unconscious before he even hit the floor.

Cybernetic Contingencies Unit Officer Terrence Vicar sat outside his company Cadillac smoking a long cigar and drinking a stout cup of black coffee. A year before, it would have been a cigarette and the coffee would have been decaf. Somewhere down the line, however, he had discovered that long cigars not only had better flavor, but were also not quite as bad for the health. So, he switched. And just that year before, he had been trying to cut out caffeine, but came to discover that his late shift job required a good pick-me-up every now and then. Just getting through the night was difficult, but if something happened, Vicar needed to keep himself alert and ready.

This was a bit of an odd time for Vicar. His old partner had just transferred to the homicide division and so Vicar was stuck alone until a replacement could come around. Vicar had been on the force just over twenty years and was a senior officer; probably the most experienced in the CCU. His new partner would be a young gun, someone who needed hands-on training from someone who had been there. Much to Vicar's dismay, that was him. As strange as it was though, he enjoyed the time he had partner-free. It made the job a bit more dull, but also a bit less aggravating.

“Charlie Unit Six-Forty-Fourteen, we have a possible code two near your location,” the radio from inside Vicar's Cadillac buzzed. “Sending location to your GPS, please investigate.” Vicar took no time to process this information; there was no need. He jumped right into his vehicle hit the gas. A code two meant that there was an active cyborg assimilation taking place. If the report was accurate, then some poor soul was being cut open to be transformed into one of those cybernetic monstrosities.

Vicar's job was to kill these monstrosities.

Echo's eyes crept open. He looked up to see two people standing around a table working on... something. His vision was all fuzzy... but... no... there was blood all over. And was that? He focused and... no, no... it was Io. She was there sprawled on her table all cut open. The two people, one man and one woman, were operating on her; installing metal components.

Echo tried to scream. Echo tried to move.

But he couldn't. He was tied. He was tied there and had to watch. Was he next? Oh no... He groaned and shook. The male looked over to him, said something to the female, then came over. A tear dripped down Echo's cheek. The man looked into his eyes and Roamer watched as his irises danced, which was one of the telltale signs for a cyborg. Oh God... poor Io....

Vicar arrived at the apartment complex and used a set of advanced thermal/chemical binoculars to scan for cyborgs. The system was bulky and required a large power supply, but it was a good way of spotting a cybernetic. Vicar would never use one and then immediately pull the trigger. He hated depending on technology. By nature, his job depended on technological skepticism. This, however, was textbook. He could see the two people who seemed to be cyborgs standing around another person who lay on a table, likely being transformed. Vicar considered going up and after them, maybe he could save the person, but that was just stupid. If the cyborg were alone, that might have been an option, but he would be outnumbered against a pair of beings far superior to him.

He got back into his car and gave the signal for backup. He requested a full CCU SWAT team. Their ETA was twenty minutes.

Not good enough.

Vicar exhaled sharply as he popped his trunk. From it he withdrew his trusty old Mossberg compact shotgun and a few extra rounds of ammunition for his Smith & Wesson revolver. He thumbed in a full four rounds into the shotgun and then slammed the trunk shut. From his wallet, he took out his badge. He clipped it to his jacket so that none of the residents would open fire on the man open-carrying the shotgun. Time to go.

He rushed across street and into the building. Fortunately, it seemed that most of the residents were asleep or at least in their homes. Quietly, Vicar climbed the stairs until he reached the fourth floor, where he had spotted the cyborgs. He knew that they were in the apartment closest to the street. So Vicar walked down the dimly-lit hall until he found the right door.

Policy for the Cybernetic Contingencies Unit was to shoot first and ask questions later. No warrant was ever needed. If an officer could provide reasonable justification for opening fire, then he should. At first, Vicar tried to be an exception. At first, he tried his very best to only shoot when he was sure, but over time, he found that shooting first was easier. And that is what he will do here.

With a mighty kick, Vicar kicked down the apartment door. Its hinges crumbled as the senior policemen stepped inside, shotgun raised. Standing directly across from him and across a table was a female, who held a drill in her hand. There was no doubt. Vicar pulled the trigger. The shotgun roared to life. The slug burst from the flaming barrel and flew to meet the woman at the end of the table. Her head exploded in a flurry of blood and electrical mayhem. Of her head, there was nothing left except that which was scattered and pooled all over the floor.

As he pulled the pumping lever, Vicar checked the room for the second cyborg. Where was that cybernetic bast-

Suddenly a mass slammed into his side. Vicar's body rushed to floor. When he hit the ground, his shotgun sprang from his hands. Vicar turned to find a creepy-looking man holding him down. The man's hand balled into a first and it hammered to Vicar's face. He spat blood as the same hands snaked around his neck and squeezed. He gasped for air.

And then he remembered: his revolver.

He reached down to his belt and felt his fingers wrap around the handgrip. Using all of his energy, he pulled it from the holster and brought it up to the cyborg's chest. He yanked the trigger.


The cyborg recoiled and let up his grip very briefly before resuming.


Vicar fired again. The cyborg squeezed tighter. The policeman angled the gun towards the cyborg's neck. This was the only sure-fire way to kill them. But he couldn't be sure of his aim....

Suddenly, he felt the pistol disappear from his hand. Vicar knew this was the end... until the cyborg's head exploded, leaving metal bits and blood all over Vicar's suit.

Gasping for air, Vicar pushed the cybernetic body off of him. Before him, he saw a hand. Vicar took it and it helped him to his feet. “Thanks, that one almost had me,” the policeman sighed as he brushed off his suit.

“Almost had you,” the man who helped him said. “Yeah, they had me tied up, but I got free just in time.”

“That you did,” Vicar took his revolver back and holstered it.

“That I did,” the man sighed. “But they got Io.”

Vicar turned to the table and the saw the woman lying there. Her head was cut open. There were metal components inside, some of them blinking in various colors. “Is that Io?” Vicar asked.

“Yeah, that's Io,” the man told him. “I came to bring back her hair-”


Vicar blasted Io through the skull.

What did you do that for?!” The man exclaimed.

“She was one of them,” Vicar reholstered his pistol.

“One of them,” the man sobbed. “She couldn't- you couldn't save her?”

“Look, what's your name, kid?”

“People call me Echo.”

“Look, Echo, once you're one of... them... you can't turn back. They say that whispers of the old person live on, but they're trapped inside thinking thoughts that aren't theirs and doing things they don't want to do. She's better off dead, Echo. She's better off dead.”

Vicar sighed as he went over and retrieved his shotgun. He took a good, long look around for his report. This would be a long one for sure. This night was bad... bad indeed, but Vicar knew he had seen worse. This was bloody and he had nearly been killed, but this was not the first time. He took a long cigar out of his jacket and lit it. The good thing about an encounter like this meant that he could turn in early. As he puffed, he realized that he regretted only one thing: that damn cup of coffee. Even if he went to bed, he knew he would never sleep.

But perhaps coffee was not the only reason....

Echo stood over Io's body. Her face was mangled beyond recognition and her body was mutilated. Under his breath, he repeated over and over, “Better off dead... better off dead...”

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