By Kristina Blaise
Just Another Job
Vinnie groans and slaps the alarm clock utop his dresser, hoping it will shut up and cease belting out its incessant warble. With that dealt with, he puts his face back down in the pillow and tries to resume catching some much-needed Zs after a night of cruising and boozing. The only hangover cure he knows about is the one where you let it fade away on its own. And then his cell phone rang.
It was work, of course. It had to be work. That Doc Mason person, the one who Vinnie wasn’t sure was a chick or a dude, was the culprit for this bullshit rude awakening. He can tell from the caller ID. They were saved in his phone as “Confusing Boss”. He hits the answer key and holds the phone close to his shaved skull.
“Yeah, wha’s it?”
“Oh, Mr. Cooper, you’re up. Thank god. We’ve got an Article 7 situation on our hands.”
Article 7? But that could only mean–
“Sorry sir…’scuse me, ma’am…whoever the fuck you are, you’re telling me someone’s taken hostages?”
Who the hell takes hostages from a freak show like the Department?
“That’s correct, though it wasn’t in an attack on a DSD branch. It was one of our beneficiaries. Symmetry Science.”
“Those are the ones who make the overpriced android fuck toys, right?”
Dr. Mason stifles a laugh, hides it with a raspy cough. Vinnie sees through this empty gesture of professionalism, though. He can read Mason like an open book, even if he hasn’t figured out what Mason is.
“Well, that’s not the terminology they’d use, but sure. However, you must understand that their services and research go beyond…er, robotic prostitutes. And this situation is concerning one of them.”
Vinnie is feeling a little curious as to how it concerns them. He’s curious about just what it is these robo-pimps are cooking up that could be of any value to the Department, or what it was that the Department were assisting them with.
He stumbles forward, the phone still practically glued to his ear. He swings open the cupboard and curses under his breath as he notices the lack of remaining instant coffee. Vinnie can afford the good stuff on the glitzy salary the Department pays him, but he doesn’t let himself have that luxury. He likes to be frugal, just the bare necessities. They teach you the importance of that stuff in the Marine Corps.
“It’s about the Starchild Project.”
“The what now?”
“Oh, it’s a new service Symmetry are prototyping. Androids that start off as kids and then keep aging as a human would. It’s meant to be targeted at parents who can’t conceive naturally.”
Right, Vinnie thinks, like some pervert with a ton of money isn’t going to pull a Roman Polanski with this.
“One of the more recent prototypes was stolen in a break-in by the Anti-Robotics League. We need you to do what you do best and diffuse the situation. We’ll send the coordinates to your phone.”
“I’ll get on it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Cooper. You’re as dependable and hard working as ever.”
Yeah, whatever, he thinks. Anything to keep a roof over my head, weirdo.
He thinks about it would’ve been like if he stayed in the Marines as he hangs up. What fate would have awaited him in these dangerous days. More and more soldiers are getting sent off world to go do peacekeeping work in the frontier, and the ones that aren’t are off fighting in South America. Those were the big danger zones last time Vinnie checked the news. He wonders what it would be like in South America. Maybe there’s lots of cocaine, and the girls are hot.
He doesn’t think it matters anymore. It’s neither here nor there in Vinnie’s present world. He straps his holster on, slips on his coat, and heads out the door.
“…This place ain’t even worth the time…”
What even is going on here, Vinnie thinks to himself. This place ain’t even worth the time.
That’s all that he can hear in the cavernous recesses of his mind as he gazes at the worn-down, foreclosed apartment complex where this robot kid is apparently being held. Vinnie ponders to himself how in god’s name the Symmetry guys got a robot to grow up the way a normal kid does. He suspects it’s got something to do with nanites or some other such reality-warping cyber-magic, but he decides now isn’t the time to go have a deep delve into his personal scientific hypotheses. He reaches for his gun and hops out of his car.
The gun is a CZ20 Enforcer machine pistol, standard DSD sidearm. It fires .45 cartridges from a 30-round box magazine at a fire rate he hasn’t counted yet, nor does he care enough to go and count it, but he knows for sure is quite rapid. Not quite “dislocate the Terminator’s wrist” rapid, but still definitely able to dust a target and slice them into ribbons at close range. He was kind of hoping he wouldn’t have to use it, though.
The security on the first floor was paltry. ABL were never known for being particularly skilled at fighting, although they would’ve needed to be packing a bit of brawn in order to stage a heist on a Symmetry facility—
Vinnie gets a sudden rude awakening as someone’s iron grip wraps around his shoulder and then throws him down the hallway with the force of a supercharged shotgun blast. That was no gunshot, though. That was definitely a punch. However, Vinnie only knew one man on Earth with a punch like that.
“Earthquake?” He grumbled out as he wobbled back on his feet, his head still spinning.
“You know, I was hesitant to take this job. But then I hear my old pal Vinnie Cooper’s in the neighbourhood, and suddenly it just seems too good to pass up.”
The Earthquake, Vinnie’s old colleague from the marines and rival mercenary, towered over Vinnie. While Vinnie wasn’t a very stout fellow, the man who had, for whatever reason, chosen to call himself Earthquake was almost seven feet tall. His physique was a byproduct of his superhuman strength mutation. Other kids were gifted to be good at school, and he somehow got born with super strength. The combat gear he wore was the same custom heavy ballistic armour Vinnie had seen him wearing the last time he ran into him, and he still chose to hide his face behind a custom ballistic mask, decorated with a sand-coloured camo pattern. As if his terrific natural strength wasn’t enough, Earthquake had adorned his arms with a set of “seismic gloves” of his own invention, designed to amplify the force of his punches through a series of sophisticated pneumatics. Overall, a terrifying opponent.
“Come on, man…” Vinnie sputters as he turns to face his opponent, “…Can’t you just let me walk this one time? You don’t even like the ABL.”
“I’ve let you walk too many times already, buddy. Besides, where was that kind of attitude for me back in Zurich?”
“That was a one-time thing, man.”
“You got me locked up for four years, asshole! You cost me four years of my life, and at the end of that I had nothing to show for it! You’d already spent all the money by then, hadn’t you?”
Vinnie actually remembers distinctly that he put the money in his savings account—a swelling, ponderous thing due to his frugality addiction—but he knows now is not the time for semantics.
“They have a kid up there, Earthquake.”
“Oh yeah? What does ABL want with a kid?”
Vinnie swallows hard. A creeping realization is worming its way into his brain as he begins to wonder if he could talk his way out of this.
“The kid’s a robot. That’s why ABL want it. You see why the fanatical robot-haters might have a problem with that? Please, just…it’s not too late to walk away. There’ll be other jobs. I promise.”
Earthquake ponders this a moment, thinking to himself in a terrifying moment of silence. Vinnie is honestly not sure if he’s more annoyed or scared, but one thing is for certain in his mind; he’s just itching to get out of this. Finally, Earthquake opens his mouth. Well, Vinnie can’t see his mouth open, but he speaks anyway.
“Aww, fuck me, Vinnie. Whatever. I’ll pretend I didn’t see you. You’re right, I’ve never liked these hippie douchebags.”
“Awesome! Thanks, buddy! You won’t regret this!”
“You owe me a beer, asshole.”
From there, security in the building is basically non-existent. Vinnie reaches the conclusion that ABL got a big head and figured they could make do with one super in lieu of a detail of regular guards. This would make sense, seeing as how terrorist splinter groups like ABL tend to be pitifully underfunded even at the best of times. Now here he is, walking out of the destitute apartment with this kid, this bewildered little boy–this little robot boy–walking close to his side, toward his car.
“They give you a name, kid?” Vinnie asks. No answer floats his way.
Vinnie shrugs it off and waves for the kid to hop in the back of his car, thinking to himself how bad this would look without context. Big, bald man herding a child into the back seat of his car. What could possibly be amiss here? He hops in behind the wheel and gives Doc Mason a call. They pick up after the second ring (oddly late for them) and their odd little androgynous voice starts chirping away through the phone’s speakers.
Random Act of Kindness
“Mr. Cooper! How can I be of assistance?”
“Yo, Doc. I got the kid. You want me to just drive him over?”
“My god, this quickly? Full of surprises as usual, eh Mr. Cooper?” The good doctor playfully prods. Vinnie just gives a snorting, nonchalant chuckle as his only answer.
“Yeah, yeah. What do I do with him?”
“Bring him back here. We should begin testing as soon as possible.”
Vinnie freezes. Just what did they mean by “testing”?
“Testing? Excuse me?”
“Oh, Vincent, you’re not getting all protective of the poor thing now, are you? It’s a machine, and stolen property of Symmetry. Lab equipment. Nothing more. Now do us all a favour and bring it back here so we can continue our research and I promise you will, as always, be handsomely rewarded.”
He puts the phone down a second, looks back at the kid.
“Please…you can’t…” he whispers, barely words so much as they are exhalations.
Vinnie thinks this is a real pinch he’s got himself in. Does he do his job, or does he do a good deed? Is it even a good deed in this case? He goes back to the phone.
“Come on Doc. Don’t you think the kid could benefit from some outdoors time? Test his emotional responses or whatever?”
“You…really don’t know how this works.”
“Fucking hell, Doc…”
Vinnie grows mildly irritated by how far he’s fallen. Here he was, fighting for the rights of what may as well be a toaster oven. Still, something about leaving this mechanical kid to the dogs seemed…off.
Something Incredibly Stupid
Mason emerged again, but this time their voice had taken another tone.
“You drive a hard bargain, Vincent. Perhaps there’s something to be gained here. The test subjects haven’t really had much time with the outside world, so it might be important that we get them that fresh air. You know, for the good of the software and all that. Very well. I see the benefits. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Great! Perfect! He can stay with me, don’t worry about it. It’ll be great!”
What the hell are you doing, Vinnie thinks to himself.
“Oh, and Mr. Cooper?”
“You owe me for this.”
God, it’s like I owe everyone today, he hears his brain scream to itself.
Mason hangs up after that. Vinnie glances at the idling screen of his phone, then back at the kid. He’s smiling now, and to Vinnie it’s not the smile of a computer. If it is, if he’s really supposed to believe that technology has come this far, then this is one hell of a machine. He thinks some prospective parents are going to be very pleased, and then promptly shutters as he realizes that some perverts likely will be as well.
“Thank you.” Is all the kid says.
Right then, Vinnie thinks, let’s you and I do something incredibly stupid.