December 2, 2018

Blood of a Runaway

The landscape was nothing but a big pile of rubble that appeared to be slowly sinking in mud. It appeared to be sinking in the Mud, but never quite.

Inside the police car, Chapman pulled up the collar of his field jacket. He put a mask over his head and pulled the straps tight. It was a full face mask with air filters on either side.

“I hate this.” Chapman said. His frustrated scream came through the external speaker with a metallic quality. Chapman smoothed out his hair underneath the mask.

Chapman was the first to step out of the car. His partner, a standard XX-35 police unit followed after him. Chapman took a deep breath. He could smell the sulfur even with his mask on.

“The P-Riley index is 354. Strontium-90 and caesium-137 are 180 and 130.” The voice of the robot came through the speakers inside Chapman’s helmet.

“Lucky you don’t need a respirator, right, Exx?” said Chapman speaking into his mic. Chapman was already sweating inside the mask. He could smell drops of sweat accumulating in his forehead. The temperature outside the city walls was many degrees above tolerable. Chapman was not only carrying the air filter system, but a heavy armour to block the radioactivity.

“Those bastards at Control have never been here. They would not be able to walk and breath in these suits they gave us. How am I supposed to capture a fugitive in this armor?”

Chapman looked ahead. As far as he could see were, in every direction, were the ruins of the old city. A radioactive wasteland where only robots adventured to scavenge for precious metals. The city had been abandoned for more than a hundred years. Few buildings still remained standing. Chapman had only seen a fraction of what was left of the old city, but it always looked the same to him. Rubble and mud.

The walls of the city–the new city–were 2 miles behind them. Over one hundred feet tall. The walls protected the city from the outside pollution.

They had traveled by auto as far as they could. The road leading to the old downtown was completely blocked. They had to continue on foot. City standard autos just weren’t build to navigate the irregular terrain of Mudcity. Rubble, trash, and all the mud. Specially the mud. The whole ground was covered by it. The streets–or what remain of them–were covered in a thick layer. At times as high as one foot. And, of course, Chapman had not been equipped with a hovercar or even an all-terrain auto.

“Why do I always get assigned duty behind the wall?” Chapman started walking towards a pile of garbage and burnt out cars. He was at piling and the entrance of the old downtown. “Fresh recruits every month. And I always end up with the shitty jobs. And I don’t even get a combat unit for a partner.”

Chapman looked back at his assistant robot. It was crawling over an abandoned auto with obvious difficulty.

“I’m a cogito unit.” said the robot. “I have not been equipped with–”

“Spare me the sob story,” Champan cut off. “It is me who is stuck here with you. Is the tracker active?”

“The signal is clear,” said the robot. “It down south. 2400th at Holohay.”

Chapman’s visor lighted up. In front of him, overlapping his view, was a map of the area. A red line connected two red dots. One was them. The other was PK-2344-5. Their target.

“It’s getting away,” said the robot.

“I know that.”

“It has walked into a building.”

Chapman’s visor lighted up with a rendering of the building. He started walking towards it. “Must be my lucky day. The fucker has no way out.”

“We should wait for backups,” said he robot.

“Every hour out here is 12 in the de-con box. I want to be done as soon as possible. I know you can’t understand it but I have a family waiting for me.” Chapman walked away.

The skyscraper on 2400th and Holohay, like everything in Mudcity, was in decay. It was over one hundred floors and it stood like a monumental carcass. Every single window was gone.

“It moving up. It’s on the 10th floor now, Chapman,” said the robot.

The entrance doors to the building were missing.

Inside the building the mud had dried long ago and gave way to dirt. A grey dirt. A colorless dirt that looked like ash more than soil. And that made following tracks much easier. Chapman found traces of fresh mud leading towards a door at the back of the big entrance.

“20th floor,” said Exx.

Chapman kicked the doors open. He heard the sound of a metal bar falling in the ground. Behind the doors he found the stairs.

“I should be home putting my daughter to sleep,” said Chapman. “Instead I will be in decontamination for 3 days at least. For a fucking runaway, who is crazy enough to escape behind the city walls and dumb enough to hide inside a skyscraper. I should be putting my kid to sleep. Instead I am here. Chasing a baby killer. All I ask is for some fucking recognition in return.”

“30th floor,” said the robot. “It’s still moving up.”

“The fucker is going to make me climb all the way up. I already know it.”

“Look away Exx,” said Chapman opening the velcro of a side pocket in his cargo pants.

The robot turned around without protesting. Chapman took out a pipe of liquid-K. Something Exx would have to report if the robot actually saw Chapman using it. Chapman took the tip off, felt around his mask for the I/O channel and plugged the pipe in it. He closed off the air vents, took a deep breath and the helmet filled up with purple vapor. He took a second breath and inhaled the purple air.

“40th floor,” said Exx still facing away.

Chapman closed his eyes and enjoyed the adrenaline rush the liquid-K gave him. He could feel his blood pumping in his temple. The oppressive heat had suddenly disappeared. An electric shock crossed his body. His muscles tensed up and he felt a rush of energy through out his body hard to contain.

“50th floor,” said he robot.

He had 30 minutes of K in the tank, and he was going to make good use of it. He had to get moving. Now. Chapman took off running up the stairs with newly found energy. He was determined on spending as little time in the outside lands as possible.

The robot run behind the cop as fast as possible, but it wasn’t fast enough. It soon was several floors behind Chapman.

“What’s up Xon? Can’t keep up?” screamed Champan into his mic..

“I’m not a combat unit! I’m a cogito machine!” The voice of the robot buzzed inside Chapman’s helmet. Chapman had a big grin in his face.

It was on the 50th floor where Chapman saw it. A bright stripe of red against the gray faded floor. Chapman tapped the spot with his foot. I was a piece of cloth soaked in what appeared to be blood.

“66th floor. It has stopped ascending.” Exx was still climbing stairs several floors below. Chapman knew the robot was struggling, even though its voice came crisp and clear. “It’s trying to hide.”

Chapman was looking at the floor map in his visor. The red dot had stopped ascending, and was moving laterally now. “It’s giving up,” he said smiling.

Chapman still was full of K when he reached the 66th floor, the door leading back into the building was broken down on the ground. Even before walking in he could feel a strong current of air blowing through. Chapman took his gun out of the hostler and walked in.

Behind the doors was a large open space. It was an office level. Desks, file cabinets, computer terminals, giant tv monitors… and cables. All those cables. Cables everywhere. The wind was blowing through the office. The air came through the floor-to-ceiling windows that had been busted to pieces long ago. If there had ever been curtains or blinds they were also long gone. The face helmet protected Chapmans view.

“Guard the stairs,” said Chapman to the robot. “Whatever happens, don’t let it get past you. Shoot it if you have to.”

“We can’t–”

“Just do as I say,” Chapman interrupted.

Chapman walked forward, holding up the gun in his hand. He could feel the K still in his system. He was tense, but his senses were sharp. Slowly he walked through the office. The red dot in his visor was now just a few feet away.

“It was an accident.” The metalic voice came from somewhere at the end of the big room.

Suddenly he spotted it. At the end of room. It almost blended with the environment but its shiny casing betrayed it. PK-X34567. The robot was squatting against a wall. In the arms of the robot was a bundle of red clothes. The bundle revealed the shape of a baby. The robot was holding the small body tight against its metal body.

“PK? That’s what they called you at the house, right? Tell me, PK, how does a one year old baby in your care end up dead with a smashed skull by accident?”

Chapman held his gun up, pointing towards the robot. He walked slowly, aware the robot could run away at any moment. He would shoot if it tried to run away. He had already made that decision in his head. Screw the mission plan. If the unit tried to run from him, Chapman would stop it on its tracks.

“It was an accident!”

“Come out and disable your motor and neuro cortex.”

“I said come out. I don’t like it when somebody disobeys me, PK.”

“I don’t care. My orders are to decommission you.”
“Well, we can’t let accidents like those happen again, can we?”

“It was an accident.”

“You keep repeating that as if that was an excuse. You killed the baby. You are broken. You know what they do to robots like you in recycling, PK? They take you apart. Piece by piece. They will keep your electronic brain on so they can diagnose each part as they disassemble you. Your arms, your legs, all your senses will be taken away until you are reduced to your black box, connected to a computer through one cable. Waiting until they drill a hole through your your neuro centers to ensure you never reactivate ever again. But, I can put an end to you misery right here.”

Chapman took a step and the robot dashed away. Chapman was close enough. He stood still, took aim, and shot the robot. The bullet hit one of its legs, and the robot fell forward.

The robot walked backwards on it’s two arms until it reached the edge of the building where a floor-to-ceiling window was missing. Behind was a 66 floor fall. It was cornered. Chapman held his gun up. The wind was hitting him hard.

“I didn’t mean to kill it. You have to believe me.” The robot in the ground was twitching, shaking.

“Why did you run away with the baby, then? Why not leave it behind?”

“I–, I am supposed to take care of it. I can’t let the baby away from me. It’s my job.”

“Looks like you are not that good at your job, PK.”

“There was a problem,” the robot spoke as fast as it could, realizing time was running out. ”I was holding the baby when it happened. It was just a system restart. I went offline for 2 seconds, 3 at most, and when I restarted the baby was already on the floor. Her neck was broken.”

“Give me the baby.”

“I can let it separate from me. It. Is. my programming. I have to care for its safety. The programming–. I see the warnings, and the errors. This—” the robot looked down at the bloody bundle in its hands, “is an exception, an exception I have not been programmed for. I am not prepared for this.”

“Give me the body or I’ll blow your head to bits.” Chapman was standing two feet from the runaway robot. “I swear I don’t give a damn about Control. They will collect your in pieces for all I care.”

“I am programmed– The fall. It was an accident. I– I felt this pressure. I wasn’t programmed to handle any of this.”

“Let me help you, then,” said Chapman placing his gun on the robots temple.

“I can’t let you shot it, Chapman.” Exx had reached the floor and was standing right behind him. “Let me take over from here. We can’t damage the glitches. You know that. They need to go back for observation. It could have been an accident. Once we get a reading we’ll know for sure.”

“An accident my ass. You robots have a program. Nothing goes against the program. Unless– there is a bug. Unless something is broken inside your robot heads.”

“If we read its neuro records we can be sure.”

“You know as well as I do that this robot is a glitch,” Chapman didn’t bother looking at Exx.

“These are direct orders from Control,” said the Exx. “You can’t ignore them this time, Chapman.”

“Spare me the lecture, will you!” exclaimed Chapman. “Not only I get the worst assignments, but I have to put up with a partner that’s a stickler for the rule book. This fucker killed a baby. I don’t think you can grasp what that means.”

“If it is guilty it’ll be sent for recycling.”

“Recycling is too good for a baby killer.”

And then it all happened. In an instant.

Chapman’s brain gave the first order. To the finger in the trigger to pull hard. Exx read Chapman’s intentions. The tension of the finger. The tightening of the grip on the gun. Those signals of imminent danger to the runaway robot, overrode the preestablished chain of command. Exx jumped with extraordinary speed towards Chapman to protect the other robot. The gun shot.

Exx saw it coming even before it happened. It tried to change direction, but its inertia was too strong. The runaway robot fell off the window into the void. Exx was too far to reach it. The robot disappeared in the red fog. A few seconds later they heard a loud crash.

Exx stared into the void for a few seconds. The runaway was gone. The glitch was lost.

The red light in Chapman’s visor had died off when the robot hit the ground. He walked towards the edge and reached over. He looked down and felt a sudden vertigo. They were too high up to see the ground. the red mist made vision difficult. He looked up and contemplated the view. He had never been this high and from his vantage point he could see the ruins of the city stretch out into the horizon.

Exx walked towards Chapman. The robot cop kneeled and grabbed the red bundle. The robot had dropped the baby just before jumping off. A farewell gift that must have cost the glitch a great deal of code overwriting.

Vox lifted the bloody cloth. The baby felt heavier than he thought. He extended its arms offering the body to the policeman.

“I am going to remind you of my duty, Exx,” Chapman said, still looking out into the city. “My mission is to kill each and every one these glitches. One mistake and you are out. And you robots, will always make one mistake. One only has to wait, and sure enough, sooner or later, you fuck up.” Chapman turned to face the robot. “And you know why? Because you are imperfect. You think you are not. But you are. More than us.”

Chapman looked at the ragged body with a look of disgust. He walked away and left Exx with the body.

“You keep it,” he said. “I’m going back home to my family.”

December 2, 2018 · #TMC · #Fiction · #Short Fiction


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