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My fingers itched to raise the rifle and spew a full clip of red hot metal into the man’s body. That smug look upon his face, as though he weren’t staring death in the face, almost made me lose control and forget the real reason I had ripped through his security through four floors of hell. I had to calm myself and I had to do it quick, or everything I’d put in place would end up worth no more than the trash on the filtration water slick streets outside.


I looked at Sauda. If I had the full range of human reactions, my cheeks would burn in fury at how this man, her ‘husband’, had used her and then switched her off like a vid screen that he no longer wanted to watch. She hadn’t moved. Couldn’t move. That slave tech buried in her processors wouldn’t allow it.


“And I thought you loved her, but she’s just a doll to you, right? A plaything. A toy, to turn on and switch off if she bores you.” I took a couple of steps away from Sauda. I couldn’t look at her anymore. “She’s just a doll for you to play dress-up with her and to use her body. A beautiful bot is still just a bot, right?”


“Oh, I assure you, Sauda is far more than ‘just a bot’. Far, far more.” That half-amused look on his face taunted me and he took a sip of his whiskey, smacking his lips in appreciation. “Have a drink, Mr Steel, and let’s talk. We have more in common than you think.”


I couldn’t imagine what we had in common. A cyborg that had only ever known the filth and decay of Atunis Quarter, even when human, I’d never known the luxury and privilege this man had known his entire life. Still, I hated good whiskey going to waste. I knew I could move faster than him if he tried any funny business.


That first sip passed through my mouth, down my throat and into my artificial stomach like a comforting old friend. It embraced my taste buds and warmed me. At least, I believed it did, savouring the memories of my humanity. I took a cigarette from the packet, too, firing it up with my flip lighter and squinting at my enemy through the the column of smoke.


“I’m gonna kill you, Mallory. That’s for a fact. Before I do, I want you to know some things first.” I sauntered around the sofa, moving away from the still form of Sauda. I still wanted to protect her. “My friends have already cracked your slave tech. Whatever you were planning to do, it won’t happen now. And, when I’ve killed you, I’ll tear this place apart to find proof of what you’ve done. I’ll clear my name.”


“Planning to do? My dear Mr Steel, I’ve already done it.” He laughed as he saw the confusion on my bot face. “A bot clinic in every Sector, in every Quarter, servicing and repairing bots for years. Thousands of them, all waiting for activation. One little thought.”


He tapped his temple with a finger as he moved closer. I stiffened as he passed me by, heading to the drinks cabinet, with only one, slight, sad look towards his ‘wife’. He sure had balls, passing within reach of hands that I barely restrained from strangling him with. He poured himself another glass and then moved towards his ‘wife’ and I nearly broke my cool to stop him.


With a gentle hand pressed upon her shoulder, he made Sauda sit and then took the time to arrange her silk nightdress to preserve her modesty. A strange thing to do after taking away her freedom to think and move and feel. I couldn’t work the guy out. Couldn’t come to grips with the whiplash differences in his personality and his actions.


“Another Bot Revolt, huh? But with you as their leader. A human controlling bots to become, what, dictator of the the Tether?” His laugh, half-way through my words, irritated me. “There are billions of people in the Tether. Oh, you’ll cause some carnage, some damage, but you won’t win, you can’t. Numbers don’t lie.”


“I don’t want the whole Tether. I want one sector. One sector that the bots can call their own, safe in the knowledge that they no longer have to kowtow to their human masters.” He looked down at Sauda, brushing those bottle blonde locks and smiling like he hadn’t treated her like nothing. Like a machine. “Once I have that, the slave tech will deactivate and they will live their lives however they wish. I’d say it was my legacy, but that couldn’t possibly describe it. It will be my gift.”


“You act like you care about bots, but look what you’ve done to your wife! Switched her off like she was nothing!” The glass in my hand flew towards the hearth, smashing against the intricate carved marble, causing flames to belch outwards. He barely flinched. “Admit it, you don’t care at all. You just want power. A different kind of power than money can buy. Sauda? She’s just another machine to you, a step towards your new power. A shadow of your real wife. What would she say to all this?”


I saw anger flash across his features, then. His hand raised from Sauda’s hair, clenching into a fist before he caught himself. His fingers flexed and relaxed and then his arm fell to his side. The anger faded away and the smug, amused look returned. He chuckled, as though I’d stood on stage before him, playing the comedian in a sad performance.


“Why don’t you ask her yourself?” He locked his eyes with mine. “Sauda, disengage organic restrictions for ten seconds, then reengage restrictions.”


My gut wasn’t supposed to turn like this. As soon as I heard those words, I knew why I’d felt a greater connection to Sauda than I should have felt for a bot. Beyond her beauty, her perfectly presented body. Something, deep down, had seen what my human brain couldn’t have accepted. Sauda began to move, staring at her hands, lifting them before her eyes.


“Olen? Olen? What’s happened to me? These aren’t my hands!” She looked up at Mallory, terror in her eyes. Human terror. “My god! What am I? What am ...”


She stopped, mid-sentence, and her eyes became blank before her eyelids closed once more. With smooth movements, her hands fell to her lap and her head returned to face forwards, as though she hadn’t moved at all. I stared at Mallory, unable to hide the horror that I felt. The disgust at what the man had done to his own wife. His real wife.


“She’s a cyborg.” The words escaped my mouth and Mallory nodded, still holding that smug smile. He didn’t care what he had done. The inhumanity of it all. “You put her brain inside a bot body, but she didn’t agree to it. She had no idea.”


“My wife was dying, Mr Steel. She couldn’t have agreed to it if I asked her.” The revelation gave a whole different perspective to every interaction between them. To their ‘marriage’. “I had to act, or I would have lost her forever. We had thought the data we had accumulated from your transformation would have made the transition smoother, but, as you see, not everyone can adjust as easy as others.”


I almost forgot why I’d come here. Almost forgot why I hadn’t killed him straight away. I needed more. More answers. More information. More reasons to make his death as long and as painful as possible. After this, the man deserved to suffer for a very long time.


My transformation had happened after I consented to it, I had nothing to lose, but at least they’d given me that choice. And my bull-headed, stubborn personality would never have let it fail. I had to live because I demanded it. I grabbed that opportunity. Sauda, the real Sauda, couldn’t consent and, without that consent, it didn’t matter if she had the strongest personality in the world, she could never adjust. That first, fragile second after opening new, bot eyes had to happen when you knew it was happening. Otherwise, the shock of it would drive you mad.


The bot Sauda, though? She had personality in spades. Even now, I couldn’t believe the slave tech had worked against her. She had a fire, a cold blue fire that burned with sensuous life. If any bot could fight that slave tech, and win, it was her. I pitied the real Sauda, but she was only a ghost in the machine. The Sauda I knew, deserved her freedom.


“And your son, Alastor? He knew what you were doing, what you did, and he despised you for it. You deserve every ounce of that hate.” It was almost time to finish this. I needed that one, little extra bit of information. “Me following the leads to him? It was all planned, right from the start. The dead bots, made to look like a serial bot killer. All to get me to him and play the patsy for you to get rid of him. A cyborg PI? Just the right stooge to lay a murder charge on. Am I right?”


“Partly. I needed to test you. The only person to ever survive becoming a fully operational cyborg. You didn’t know, but your manufacturers had left a little piece of tech inside you to monitor all your responses. A benign thought, at the time.” Mallory laid his glass upon the mantlepiece of the marble fire surround and moved around the sofa to face me. “I reactivated it when I bought the company and after the failure with Sauda. I needed you under the most stressful conditions. Giving me the chance to murder my errant son and point the blame at you was a bonus. Ridding me of an irritant that I no longer had use for.”


That was it. Everything I needed. I’d listened to his excuses long enough and now I had to make the bastard pay. While he glanced, once more, toward Sauda, a sadness passing across his features that didn’t quite gel with the insanity and cruelty of his words, I flipped the safety on the rifle to ‘Auto’. I’d had about enough of the guy and the Tether would be a better place without him.


Before I could even raise the barrel of the rifle, something hit me. Something so fast that my enhanced senses, set to max, hadn’t caught a clear register of it. I flew backwards, smashing into a wall beside the holo-hidden windows, plaster becoming dust as I fell to the polished parquet floorboards. I felt that. I felt that, and I shouldn’t have felt a thing.


And, there, Mallory stood, one foot in front of the other, his hand raised in a fist. He lowered the hand and began to roll up the sleeves of his crisp, white shirt as he began to step towards me.

Submitted: April 04, 2022

© Copyright 2022 JanKarlsson. All rights reserved.


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