Prose

An Uncertain Future- Chapter 6


by: CJ Fogarty

Miri

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to light up and feel good about it, frankly. These last few months have been pretty much hell, I can’t lie about that. I looked in the mirror this morning, though, and I noticed that the gray underneath my eyes was definitively lighter this morning checking into the hotel. Also, the updates had nothing but good news for me this morning.

Sitting up on my bed, holophone held to my ear, taking various calls from Guardian posts in Washington, Rome, Moscow, Cairo, and Shanghai, all with a bear snoring softly in the other bed. The resonance of Duke’s snoring told me that he was sleeping with his mouth open and the messed surroundings about his large figure was a sign of various tossing sessions during the night. Conclusion: he’s no sound sleeper or, at least, doesn’t get to sleep quickly.

Anyway, all of the calls I received that morning were optimistic, for the most part. The protests and gang fighting in Los Angeles between the libertarians and the national socialists had been broken up successfully by Guardians participating on both sides. This is a common method we use for breaking up gang wars: just have double agents inserted onto both sides, spread some rumors, lower morale or maybe take temporary leadership and it allows for the movement to break up without connecting it directly back to our people. These conflicts have been rising in the United States, however,  and the heavily polarized political landscape is not helping this situation.

La Vita Liberato, or ,”Liberated Life”, in northern Italy had been broken up finally after two to three years of our intervention. This, “religious organization”, cult is more like it, was just one of many formed in response to the technological leaps forward in the past few decades. Between a seemingly-inept government and the exponential rise in organized crime, which is a noted trend in the Americas, Africa, and Asia as well, the people needed an authority they felt made sense. These were scared or stubborn people harnessed by ignorant and archaic leaders, in this case a Catholic mystic, who claimed that use of technology and materialism will eventually rot our society unless we return, “traditional values.” I don’t know whom he thought he was kidding, considering their, “traditional values”, include terrorism, blackmail, and illegal trades in order to further their, “righteous destiny.” In both cases these guys had been arrested or infiltrated thanks to us, but more often than not, our actions are not so direct.

An international child prostitution ring in the Nationalist Confederation of Russia was discovered to be supported by several high-ranking political and religious officials, all with an anonymous tip given to Interpol. Another tip was given to the CIA that national socialists planned to assassinate the president of the Federation of North Korea, and he was able to survive in order to sign the treaty officially ending the United Nations embargo and tariffs on the recovering democracy. All this occurs and remains in the media for probably a good week, before they move onto the next degenerate pro athlete relapsing after rehab or the polarized, unsensical debates about whether or not androids and cloned humans can be considered people. I know promoting that practice doesn’t say much of society, but, hey, at least it keeps Godeseye out of the spotlight where we belong.

Although, I can’t really say we’re out of that danger zone. For the past few years, Interpol has been a constant thorn in our side. The international intelligence community has had limited knowledge of our existence for the past forty years, according to John. For the past four, however, there’s been an increased effort to gather information on our people. Since there’s less chance of buying a good Guardian out with John keeping the more deceptive ones away from the inner circle, they’ve had to be pretty aggressive in their approach. Their investigations tend to hamper our progress and sometimes put a strain on our flexibility. John, Sage and I had managed to narrow the efforts down largely to one person, but his or her identity has since remained unknown. All we’ve been able to gather is that this probe goes by the name, “Sentinel”, to his or her peers. There was a point last year at which we had the operative cornered in Moscow, but in vain. Nonetheless, the glance I got at her spoke of an athletic female with dark hair.

“Overly-general is better than empty”, John would say.

With John’s death a few months ago, this has been one of the problems I’ve inherited as grandmaster.

Still, maybe I should’ve taken all the news that morning as a good omen, that is if I could rationally base my life off of signs and portents. Usually, doing that just sets me up for one failure after another, but, well, today’s a lucky day I guess. Still no word from the Guardians on the Mars colony, though, I can’t blame them for staying quiet. Ever since the Mars Tragedy some few decades ago, the population of Mars has been so sparse that we a Guardian foothold really hasn’t gotten off the ground yet. We’ve got enough problems down here anyway.

But, the crowning achievement has to be that I’ve finally, FINALLY, found both of our essential targets, these enigmatic, pains-in-the-ass known as D.B., Michael “Duke” Bishop, and R.S., Richard Saint. Their idiosyncratic nature is evidenced in everything from their behavior, to their cliche, action-movie names. Outwardly, “Duke”, appears to be a rationally-thinking individual with a diverse nature, given that he is equally as talkative and witty at times yet he is quiet, reserved at others. His noticeable flaw seems to be abuse of certain substances when depressed, rooted more deeply with a sense of fatigue, emphasized by a career he once claimed to span two millennia. This is a feat impossible for one of human physiology, and I must conclude that it is an exaggeration. R.S., on the other hand, appears more talkative outwardly.

Deducing what he’s all about might be a little more difficult. I’ve only found a good method of deduction a few years ago, and recently, I’ve been off my game. Nabbing that murdering valet in New York was the only good one I’ve done in months. I didn’t try it with Duke, but let me see with Rich: the black pellets stuck in the bottom of his shoes, along with faint, green sediment, leads me to believe he’s been in contact with astroturf, not grass. In multi-level cities, more often than not, grass is far more expensive to plant on the upper levels, so astroturf, made to look as aesthetically-pleasing as possible, lines streets and parks. So, unless he was drunk enough to wander through the Elizabeth Stadium I’d say that he’s come from one of the upper levels and somehow managed down an elevator to the first level.

Okay, so far so good. What else though?

The wrinkles on his sleeves indicates that he had rolled them up. Also, still present on his right arm is an accentuated vein, and he has a habit of regularly squeezing that hand. I conclude that he has spent the night not only drunk but showboating as well, arm wrestling other patrons, most likely the, uh, the fat ass he was next to in the pub who’s going home tonight covered in beer. That was fun.

A series of other variables tell me his origins: I detected a faint smell of petroleum on him, among the booze, as he walked by, indicating that he’s stayed around tar enough for the smell to linger. This is also evidenced by several hardening, black patches on the bottoms of his pants. To my knowledge, London’s third level is filled with industrial complexes, with a lot of plant waste often being flowed to a giant incinerator which powers parts of factories, cutting down on energy bills. However, the shoes are much newer in comparison, no evidence of anything but astroturf, indicating that they were purchased that day. Here, though Rich’s story gets a little foggy because I can’t pinpoint exactly where he’d get the money to buy shoes, or maybe he stole them. And, that doesn’t explain why he’d be living near a petroleum plant, unless….

His hand sports two blisters, indicating where a sticky substance, perhaps the tar-like waste from a plant, was pulled off his hands. I also notice that the smell of petroleum earlier had carried a hint of what I thought was rum, but turns out to be something sweeter, something that I’d recognize in a department store, the women’s section…Ah, got it. Among the factories on London’s third level is the NovaCare Chemical Processing Plant. NovaCare is in one of the only businesses for which petroleum is still used in abundance, cosmetics. Like other factories, the waste from the plant forms a river of sludge on its way to the incinerator, which must be kept from hardening by workers at various intervals along the canal. The waste itself would mostly be whatever’s left of the chemical process, but a stale, sweet smell wouldn’t be uncommon. Thus, I conclude two things: one, R.S. held down a steady job tending to the waste from a chemical plant producing makeup, a job revolting to the eyes and deceptively pleasing to the ears. Second, he was making a substantial wage to as to afford a means of living, giving the clean state of his clothes, and bought the shoes and the liquor from the money he’d made.

Good job, Miri. That only took, hmm, four minutes, that should be shorter. Still, though, that wasn’t bad considering he’s an ambiguous character. I am, however, prompted to take lipstick from my pocket. It is a dark red shade, one that I vaguely remember putting on this morning. The label on it, like just about cosmetic products these days, says NovaCare right on the side. I remember I used to say, when I was little, that I’d never wear makeup because I got so grossed out when I learned the sludge lining the streets would go on my face. I told myself I’d rely on my natural beauty for the rest of my life, and if guys didn’t like it, oh well. As I recall, that aspiration didn’t last all that long, but it made perfect sense at the time. I smile at how funny I was back then, thinking that I knew how to deal with everything. In a way, I guess some things don’t really change.

Looking outside the taxi, I find that it’s getting darker, and soon the street lamps project down cones of light into a surrounding darkness. The yellow light makes all the brick buildings we pass look the same, the only pedestrians being a few, swarthy men bundled up in trench coats. Their expressions are grim, no, more solemn, walking with their eyes down, certainly in order to avoid eye contact and feel committed to interaction.

The cabby is a Hakura Enterprises TA-1, an older model-android from about 2047, licensed to transportation services all over the globe. An efficient model who won’t secretly increase the meter for you, but was never much for conversation. Some say that Hakura made his earlier robots capable of morality. Later models attempted to replicate more, “human”, qualities, but never really got there according to customer reviews, and Kenji Hakura himself died in 2050, taking most of his secrets with him. Plus, these ideas ran into political backlash when unions around the world took to protesting androids taking jobs away from human workers, and all projects to create machines with human qualities have been put on hold.

I turn to the right and find Duke with those casual arms behind his head, and R.S., or Rich, leaning his face against the window in obvious fatigue. I hope, at least, that he’ll be calmer once for the ride back, and we can converse more sensibly in the morning.

My hopes are dashed, it seems, when Rich suddenly perks up, his eyes quite open and he exclaims while frantically looking toward the driver, “Stop the cab. Stop it now! NOW!”

“Rich”, Duke exclaims, suddenly startled, “what the hell’s the matter?”

I look to find Rich’s hands trembling, followed by his whole body exhibiting a sense of restlessness as the cab pulls over and slows down.

Duke I think sees as I do, and attempts to put a hand on Rich, when the man is suddenly out of the door, and running, no, sprinting down a dark alleyway.

While I barely have time to process this, DB. exclaims suddenly, “Shit, come on, Miri, we have to follow him”.

“What’s going on?”, I demand.

“I’ll try to explain, but we’ve got to chase him down!”, D.B. replies, “Come on”.

He climbs out the door. As I go to follow, I turn to the cabby and, “Listen, wait here for us, whatever is needed I’ll pay.”

I thought I heard a mechanical monotone call after me, but I was too focused. We start chasing right after Rich down the tight, twisting alley, narrowly avoiding old, tin garbage cans on either side. I just found this man after three months, and I’ll be damned, if I have to go through all that fucking work again because he suddenly suffers drunken delusions.

“I don’t know where he’s going”, D.B. says loudly, pausing between huffs and breathes as he struggles to keep up, “but, usually when his hands start shaking, he’s remembering something, and he has to make sense of it”.

“Remembering, what the hell does that mean, Duke?”

“Well, it’s just like you said, -ah shit-“, Duke exclaims, narrowly avoiding tripping over a trash can.

In contrast to Duke, Rich, with the thin legs and smaller, upper body, can move pretty fast, much faster than his counterpart.

“Just like you said, the human brain can’t take all the years of life that we’ve had to endure. So, I guess we have certain benefits given to us, considering we’re still alive. But we have terrible moments where we want to forget something, more than anything but we can’t.”, he pauses to breath heavily, “and-and then, it haunts us, forever I guess, until we find some means of escape or closure.”

Now, I don’t actually believe what he’s saying, but I have been curious about his claims. I’m not a philosopher or scientist, but my interactions with D.B. so far haven’t shown me any concrete evidence of mental illness. Mild paranoia, perhaps, mixed with delusions of grandeur and high stress, but not all-out insanity. We reach a wire fence, which R.S. easily clears using a dumpster.

The two of us climb as fast as we can, and R.S. turns the corner, onto the sidewalk. Turning the corner ourselves, it isn’t hard to make out the man in his tan trench coat forcing his way through a crowded street, his wanton path leaving a trail of fallen, confused pedestrians behind him. I’m a fairly-fast runner, but I am hard pressed to keep up to him, every step I take failing to close the distance between me and R.S. I’ll be damned if he gets away from me now! Looking back at D.B., I can tell he’s not used to running. While his height affords a longer gait, his overall body mass is not conducive to sprinting, nor is it his practice, given the obvious strain and coloration in his face. Observing his chest, however, his breathing is paced quite well, so I’m not worried about him giving out.

Looking back forward, I see R.S. still forcing his way through until he is tackled by a swift police officer. We reach their position where R.S. is wrestling with the officer, who is struggling to place handcuffs on R.S. Rich is tackled to the wall and is on an awkward position on his knees. As a police car pulls over and people crowd around, it appears that we’ll have to come up with a way to free him, which I dread terribly. I hate it when the cops get involved, unless we need them to. Suddenly, however, Rich leaps upward and, using a nearby stair, springs back to the officer and delivers several wild blows to his head, the latter falling to the ground, unconscious. Then, with amazing speed, Rich springs from one officer to another, punching one burly policeman in the face and delivering a hard kick to the other’s thigh, stealing her sidearm at the same time.

I can only stare in disbelief. I knew these guys were good, but no one should be able to do that given the amount of alcohol he’s consumed. Rich brings the gun upward, fires a few pulses, and the crowd scatters, leaving only us, him, and the injured police officers. Rich starts backing away, and at this he begins to stagger, losing a straight line in his gait, this evidence remarkably reminding me that he’s still drunk.

Backing further into another alley, he yells frantically, “Stay away from me, Duke! I don’t want any more part of this madhouse. I just want to forget everything!”

“I don’t blame you Rich”, Duke replies, still breathing heavy, but with stoic eyes, “but right now, the Order needs us again”, then, pointing to me, “this girl here has spent a long, hard time trying to find us.”

Rich suddenly glances up and states, despairingly, “Look at this Duke! LOOK AT WHAT THE WORLD HAS BECOME!”

Glancing up myself, I guess he’s referring to the cars on the skyway, flying above us in a crowded line of rush-hour traffic. It suddenly occurs to me that it isn’t that late, given all chases I’ve done for targets hiding in the darkness. In other words, it shouldn’t be as hard as it’s been.

“The world’s gone ahead and changed again, Duke! And we’re left behind”, Rich continues backing up further closer to another alley.

While I maintain a careful distance, D.B. seems to be approaching Rich more quickly.

“There’s no place for us ‘ere anymore, Duke!”.

Duke continues closing the distance between them as Rich suddenly spasms, grasping his head, “Agh, it gets to you, doesn’t it! Don’t tell me it doesn’t! All these years of fighting and losing everything and everyone a million times over!”

Despite Rich having a fully-loaded pulse pistol in his hand, Duke approaches him purposefully. It appears that Rich is struggling to move his arm and bring the gun down. He never gets the chance anyway, because Duke grabs the gun, using the other hand to send a hard, fast punch into R.S.’s jaw.

Rich drops the gun as Duke continues with, “Yeah, you’re damn right it gets to me too. I’m more tired than any other human being can even think to imagine. And so are you. But, I’ll be damned if the world doesn’t need us anymore. Miri here has dedicated her young life to this cause, a cause that we started, when she should just be caring for herself, she’s decided to deal with us. If she’s done this, then you must know that humanity still needs us”.

Listening to D.B.’s passionate oratory, I glance back to find the disarmed police officer withdrawing the pistol from her unconscious comrade. I reach the officer in perfect time as her right arm is brought up to point at the two men, and I push her against the nearby wall. I hold her arms in a tight grip, bringing my left knee to press against her injured thigh, causing her to grunt in pain.

I stare right into her angry brown eyes, our face nearly inches apart, and, “You don’t want to be doing that, officer. Let us take him home, and he won’t cause any more trouble.”

She responds only by grunting louder, her clenched teach, messy, chin-length brown hair and the sweat of her face telling me of the force she is attempting to exert against me. I hold her back successfully, but her head delivers a blow to mine while her free right thigh jabs my chest. Okay, so I miscalculated her tenacity, I think to myself as her now free arm traps me in a headlock. She brings down her other arm and, spinning me around, wraps around my chest, holding tightly.

“I am placing you under arrethst, for athaulting”, she pauses for a moment, and repeats, “for assaulting an officer of the law”, she hisses harshly in my ear.

Her tone is deep yet with a feminine English accent, and I detect a lisp on the “s” sounds. A curious speech impediment which, no doubt, she is very self-conscious of.

Paxton”, she continues, gesturing toward the burly officer with the bleeding nose, “have your stun ready ”.

Paxton does as he is told, removing the double-barred sidearm from his holster. Just as the top barrel begins to glow and buzz, D.B. races in from the left, seizing the officer by his coat and throwing him back onto his car. The size of the officer is almost equal to that of D.B., so it must take a considerable amount of strength to toss a man of that size. D.B. attempts to hold the officer down, but, recovering, the latter is able to defend against D.B.’s attacks, thus they trade blows.

The sudden onset of this skirmish is just the opportunity I need, bringing up my left leg and slamming hard upon my captor’s foot. The boots aren’t just apart of the look after all. Her loss of step allows me to flip my captor entirely over my head. My foot goes to her neck with enough pressure to hold her down but her right hand goes for her sidearm, bringing the stunner up to my ankle. A sharp, spasming pain shoots up my leg, along with a few seconds of delirium. I had forgotten that police officers in big cities are issued, rather controversially, sidearms with stun charges which temporarily impair the suspect’s vision and senses. This window of approximately six seconds is used to take the suspect down. When my vision returns, I see the officer had just enough time to be up on her feet and pointing her pulse pistol at me.

“Thisss has gone far enough!”, she barks at me, trying to accentuate her s’s and z’s,”call of your dog or I will be authorized to use deadly force”.

Out of the corner of my eye, D.B. has the upper hand, beating the officer unconscious on the hood of the police car.

The officer’s glance is temporarily fixed on those two, and that is one miscalculation on her part. My hand shoots out to take her gun, my other fist landing a blow to her face. She recovers quickly, however, delivering a roundhouse kick to my head, which I am able to block almost barely with both my arms. I grab her leg and pull the officer to the ground, and attempt to deliver the final blow. My fist, however, hits nothing but pavement as she rolls out of the way and quickly, vaults back up onto her feet, and I suddenly feel a sharp blow to the back of my head, and now I’m on the ground.

That’s two miscalculations that have cost me this fight. Dammit Miri! And there’s no way this woman learned to fight like this in some police academy. I’ve been trained for a good twelve years in hand-to-hand combat, so I’m the fact that I’m beaten by a London cop is a shock and an embarrassment. I suspect that this woman has to have training in a more elite force.

I turn around and find her gun pointed in my face again. She’s panting heavily, so not in a mood to deliver me my rights I suppose. Given this woman’s tenacity and well-versed fighting style, I’d say she’s definitely ex-military. Upon her right wrist, I now perceive the beginnings of a tattoo, the thin, long blade of a British army-issue Sykes-Fairbairn knife to be exact. Ex-military alright. However, her fighting style possesses a unique amount of finesse and skill which, I think, could only be afforded by training from an even more elite force: perhaps the SAS or even MI6. In short, this woman has a peculiar background. I manage to make out a name on her tag: Elthelrigde. Fake name most likely.

All of this analyzing, of course, takes but a few seconds, before I realize that I’m on the ground and have a gun in my face again.

Both eyes fixed on me now, Ethelridge says, “You cheeky buggers think you can just walk around the world in secret. Do whatever you want? Well, let me assure you, this will no longer be the case.”

Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?

Before I have time to think, from the corner of my other eye, I suddenly see R.S. sneak behind the officer. Apparently he isn’t sneaky enough, and with a sharp jab of her elbow, she hits him right in the nose. Keeping the gun, and one eye, fixed on me, I’m actually starting to get impressed with this one, she attempts to bring a jab into R.S.’s torso. This time, she is not successful, and R.S. seizes her right wrist, twists it in a vice grip, kicks hard at her thigh, the same one he had injured earlier, and brings her to her knees. This is followed by a jab to the neck, and the officer is on the ground.

R.S. then brings his eyes to me, and I see his face is quite red, from both the stress applied and the residual intoxication. His hands are still trembling, as is much of the rest of him, and his lips are pulled tight in a constant wince of pain. That pained face is brought up to me and then gone in one second as he takes off down the street, turning to the entrance of an old subway station.

D.B. speeds past me with, “Come on, Miri, he’s getting tired!”, apparently having bested his opponent.

Well, it would be about time, goddammit. That’s what I wanted to shout, but I took off after them, going down the dark staircase and coming into an subway tunnel. It looked like one many subway systems that hadn’t been renovated in decades, save for the shining metal tracks and modern graffiti. Rich is suddenly stopped at the edge of the platform, staring off into the darkness left and right. Turning, still struggling a bit to keep his balance, he notices us. First, he looks at D.B., giving a resigned frown.

Then, looking right at me, “So, you’ve given years to this fucking effort. To find the Great Guardians? Well, here we are”.

At this he arms his arms before him, then continues, “the question is, lass, do you believe who we are? What all the old stories and reports say we are? Do you really?”

I-I don’t know how to answer. I mean, I’ve entertained the idea that Duke’s story might have been correct, but not with any rationality, because there is no rationality behind it. It makes absolutely no scientific or even practical sense to believe their story. I cannot in all honestly tell him, “yes”, so I shake my head, “no”.

At this, I see D.B. turned to me, downcast, and R.S. pause, his eyes closed, his breath steadying. Then, with a more casual tone, hands still trembling a little. Staggering, he falls backwards, and would’ve fallen onto the track had the rail not saved him. It was as Duke told me after all. Alcohol is definitely this one’s vice. The question is, does Duke himself have any?

“Do you remember this place Duke?”, R.S. asks, turning to D.B., “This particular metro?”

Before Duke has a chance to answer, Rich goes, “I do. I remember going down these stairs, hundreds of civilians behind me. Me in my good ol’ uniform, the uniform people respect so well, used to respect anyway, and all I’ve got is my Lee-Enfield. You remember that rifle?”

“Yeah, Rich, I do”, Duke replies, softly, “you named her Cecille.”

“That’s riiiiiiight”, Rich replies, slurringly, moving down the stairs,”My dear ol’ lass, the one who never gave up, never surrendered, and would sooner face……death, than live ‘elplessly. But, I’ll say what, that courage don’t count for shit-“,

He cuts off as we reach the bottom, it opens into a dark subway station, lit by only two dim, archaic bulbs on each side of the entrance. The walls are cracked on all sides, the shining rails running along into darkness from the left and right.

“-when”, Rich continues while standing on the edge of the rail. He is getting increasingly louder, “they rain hell above your head, so much that you can’t even see the Sun clearly without Jerry’s fucking planes blocking your view.  You-You’ll never forget the sounds of those bombs, mate, an-and the screams of the people above whom you couldn’t save for shit! All you can do is crawl into a corner with the scared bunnies in this rabbit hole! And with me trusty rifle, like courage its-fucking-self, my chances of survival decrease with every useless attempt against forces too great to stop, people to many to save.”

Then, turning to me and coming a little closer, “do you know how we’ve survived all these years? Do you really wanna know, lass? It’s not because of dashing heroics or-or always doing the right thing. It’s because we know when to blow some fucking bloke’s head off when we need to or when we need to just keep running away. And we never look back. We know when and what we-we SHOULD forget! But, we can’t always do that!”

His legs suddenly give way, and tumbling to the left, R.S. slides to the ground, his back leaned against the wall, his head down for a while. He then reaches into his pocket, and taking out a cigarette, he lights it and takes a few drags.

Then, he states to D.B., with finality, “that’s all the world’ll ever be, Duke. And that’s all we’ll ever be in it. No matter how hard we fucking try, they’ll never be done with us. We’ll just have to keep going, because humanity will never reach that point we were dreamin’ of. You remember, we’d always talked about that time. The point at which the world wouldn’t need us anymore. Well, that all went up in smoke didn’t it! Or no, not smoke, more-more like smog. Thick, black, London-fucking smog, because the notion just lingers about, slowly poisoning you until hope just goes away. We won’t be able to save them Duke, and no matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to forget that we’ve failed to do so.”

Okay, just calm down Miri. There’s a way to fix this, I’m sure of it. Just keep your cool. You can’t show these guys weakness. You can’t show anybody weakness.

I see Duke walk forward and sit down next to R.S.

He puts his reassuring arm around him and then, with a sympathetic smile but firm tone, “Rich, I’m not gonna say that you’re wrong, cuz you’re not. But, this is what we’ve got, and since we’re not gonna stay dead, might as well try to do a few things right, huh? Who knows, I mean, this uncertain future might hold possibilities for you and me. They’re gonna play out one way or another, so let’s make sure they play out our way.”

Rich utters a sigh of acceptance and, after one last drag, tosses his cigarette away. I observe that Duke almost seems like a big brother, the way he talks to R.S. I step closer, perceiving that the situation has cooled. I hope I don’t have to deal with too many more fucking breakdowns. I sure am due for one myself.

As I step forward, Rich turns to me and says, “ ‘Ave you told him, about that fucking genocide on Mars, in 2051? That radical group that got all of those people killed. They call it the Mars Tragedy or something?”

I look at him, wondering why he’d bring that terrible event up, of all things, but looking at Duke, I see almost frightened surprise on his face.

Rich perceives this as well, and to me he replies, with a deep breathe, “Guess we’ve got a lot to talk about. Eh?”

“Yes, we do”, I reply, my first words ever to the man, “but I trust that you’re going to cooperate this time?”

R.S. looks me in the eye and slowly nods. D.B. and I help him up to his feet. He’s able to walk up the stairs out of the station, but we each walk abreast of him because he still has trouble keeping a straight line. Cutting through alleyways, not bothering to check on the officer we had downed, we find a little later, to my surprise, that the cab has loyally remained in its place.

D.B. and R.S. climb into the back seat, the latter falling asleep shortly after. I ride shotgun and the mechanized cabby asks if this destination has remained unchanged.

I reply that it hasn’t. I look toward the meter, estimating an additional fifty royals for our detour, only, I observe that the meter doesn’t appear to have increased at all, but remains at 17 royal credits. I ask the cabby why our fare isn’t more expensive.

Turning his metallic grey head to me, he replies, “There was a slight malfunction in the fare calculating system. The problem has been noted, delivered to developers, and will be addressed in the future.”

Although it’s nearly impossible to spot when an android is lying, something didn’t seem right with his statement. Then, I realize something that was very unique about the models designed by Kenji Hakura himself. This surprisingly human act brought a bright smile to my face, I think the first one I’ve had all night.

I am both relieved and embarrassed at the unexpectedness of it all as I reply, “Thank you”.

“Your welcome”, the android replies in unemotional monotone, his blue lighted eyes facing forward.

Reaching the hotel, I thankfully pay the cabby, swiping my card on the slot on his left shoulder. I go to leave a tip, only to find hear, “this unit is too outdated to perform that function”.

I, of course, know that that this isn’t true, but I let it drop. I don’t even have the strength left to be generous. With D.B. essentially carrying his drunken friend upstairs and into the bed, he drops down on the couch near the window. Removing my boots and everything else but my tank top, I crawl into bed and follow suit.

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