V Positive

The sun dominated the sky that day. Clouds cowered under its gleaming oppression. Even the birds seemed to fly low. Derek squinted, knowing immediately that he should have stayed home. And he should have. That was the day Derek’s life fell to shit.

He fought the heavy doors of the testing facility open. Their weight surprised him as much as his own weakness did. He told himself it was just early and he was tired, but honestly, lying to himself was getting old. There was nothing salubrious about it.

Inside, Derek was greeted by an older woman dressed in disdain. It was obvious that she hated being there, which struck Derek as odd considering most such facilities ran on volunteers. He’d never been in one, but many anecdotes attested that volunteers were generally people who had lost someone to the merciless disease. People whose grief drove them. Derek supposed it was likely that one day, the grievers might wake up to realize their services hadn’t done a thing to change circumstances. In fact, the numbers grew each week. That could make a person grow bitter – like the woman leading him down the hall.

“You’re running on borrowed time, Mr. Alvarez,” she announced with a tone that denoted lack of surprise.

Positive. He thought the word, but could not get his tongue to pronounce it.

“Positive,” she said for him, avoiding eye contact as she skimmed the test results. “And the gene,” she added without emphasis. Derek could have sworn he saw her shoulders drop an inch or two, though.

Derek watched her silently, choking back anger or hysteric sadness, whichever was threatening to push to the forefront. The bitter lady was now visibly smothering her tired loathing and reaching deep down for something that might mimic patience.

“The gene, as you must know, is a birth defect.” Spiel time. Standard, he imagined. “About 40% of people are born with it these days, and it lies dormant until it comes in contact with the virus. Now that that’s happened, you are V-Positive, and the gene will begin to mutate.”

She handed him two bottles of pills, placing the first in his left hand and the second in his right. Pointing, she continued.

“These ones will suppress the symptoms, and these will slow the change.”

Slow. Not stop. Derek winced. The med-cocktail would only slow the inevitable. Sooner or later, he was going to turn into a monster.

“The virus can be transmitted through any bodily fluid. We ask that you respect the right of others to not be infected by malicious intent.”

She looked away again – seemed to drift off to a place only she could see. When she returned mere seconds later, her eyes had softened.

“Even with the medication, certain circumstances can cause a flare up of symptoms. Among them is increased heart rate and body temperature. The sun and sexual activity are the two leading causes of outbreak. You’d do best to avoid these.”

She reached into her pocket and drew a small syringe, thick enough to insert the microchip.

Without warning she stuck the tip in Derek’s arm and injected.

“This chip will measure body temperature and other symptom levels. It also has GPS tracking. We will receive urgent notification the moment you become at risk.”

“And then what?” It was the only question Derek asked that day, but he already knew the answer.

She sighed and then looked him square in the eyes. Without quiver or hesitation, she said, “And then we put you down.”

Derek held her stare, and as he did so, his heart rate increased.

I See the Future

I see the future. It’s not pretty. It’s a hellish symphony trapped inside my head.

Time stops. Trees burn and crumble to ash. Waters freeze over. People in stasis beg for death but the Angel of Mercy ignores their cries.

Some call it the end. But I know it’s just the beginning. Slowly but surely we adapt. In all the ugliness of destruction is the beauty of evolution – the monstrous beauty of regenesis.

Skins toughen; harden. Eyes sink and sharpen. Gills sprout, furs thicken. Teeth become tools.

We divulge into mayhem and then find peace. It’s both catastrophic and cathartic. Life is precious; it’s worth killing for.

I see the future. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty damn amazing.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

The Difficult Question

Story #3: The Fixers Series

“What are you doing in here?”

I perk up at the sound of the voice. I don’t recognize it, but I assume it must be a doctor or nurse assigned to June, the woman I’ve come back in time to… right a wrong for. I’m still dazed from the Time Mover, and I’ve decided my best bet for now is to steal the chip technology before it can be implanted in her. Without it, there will be no reason to make her cyborg either; she’ll be considered useless and let alone. She probably won’t survive the injuries otherwise, but I’m trying not to think about that part. June asked me for a favor, she asked me not to let them turn her into a machine; a false version of herself. I don’t know where my moral compass aims on chip technology, but I know when I saw the sparks fly from her tearing eyes, I owed her something.

I spin around and face a plump middle-aged woman in scrubs. She’s holding a syringe and staring at me dubiously. A fixer should never be seen. We never go so far back that physicians would not be aware of us and our intents – but it’s still best to avoid the conversation. The fewer details divulged, the less harm done to the collective consciousness. Particularly, who gets fixed and who doesn’t is a topic we like to obviate. The missions are always cloaked in mystery.

“Dr. Sasha Green. I need a moment with the patient.” I dart my eyes at the nurse, hoping she understands who I am, and leaves. But she returns no such indication.

“You can’t be in here. This is Dr. Allister’s patient.”

Gus. He’s already here, and revealing himself. Odd, but okay; I can work with that.

“Yes, I work for Dr. Allister. You can check with him. Send him in.” I turn back to face June, unconscious and bloody on the table. Plane crash – the kind from which you don’t come back.

The nurse scoots out of the room in a hurry. She doesn’t trust me, at all. When Gus arrives his face falls but it’s a face much younger than the one I’m acquainted with. Startled, I look down at June’s file. The information hits me like a truck and I realize that in my hastiness, and fear, and confusion, I punched in the date so robotically that I hadn’t fully processed it.

I’ve gone back not to September 1st of this year, but of twelve years ago.

It explains the lassitude that has taken me over. I’ve never gone back further than a few months. Some of the more experienced fixers have gone back a year or two; but twelve? This was altogether unbelievable. I was unaware the Time Mover could even pull off something of this magnitude.

Gus sees me. Really sees me. He knows exactly who I am, even though I won’t meet him for another four years.

“Are you scouting me?” I ask, immediately threatened by the idea that this man whom I have looked up to has been lying to me from the start.

He nods, hesitantly, and approaches me. In a low and frantic whisper, he asks: “did I do it? The Time Mover? It works?”

“Yes,” I answer, stepping back from his intensity. “I’m here to stop this,” I add, pointing to June.

“No. No. No, you don’t understand.” He’s flustered now.

“Understand what? You broke the oath, took bribes, exchanged money and research for a poor woman’s life.” I’m almost yelling, but I’m still short of breath, and trying to keep my calm.

Gus cuts his eyes at me and the glare sends shivers up my spine.

“I’ll have you know, Ms. Green, that it is with this donation that our precious Time Mover can be realized. Our entire operation, all the lives we’ll save. You’d compromise one for all?”

I stare at him blankly, trying to process the information. Moments pass, and I still don’t have an answer. I feel as though we’ll stare at each other, locked into this principled stand-off, forever.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Read Story #1 or Story #2

Unwind (Neil Shusterman): Book Review

Dystopia; Young Adult ♠♠♠♠

Author: Neil Shusterman.

This book was published in June 2009, the first of the Unwind dystology. It holds a 4.19 rating on Goodreads.

Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.
The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

This book is a haunting, disturbing, and thought-provoking. When I first began it, I was skeptical. Young Adult fiction doesn’t always do it for me, and I was opposed to the lack of backstory it seemed to offer. The reader is told that a war has taken place and as a result abortion is illegal – but unwinding teenagers is commonplace. My immediate thought was that a pro-life society could not devalue the life of teens so readily. Not laying out the course of events that would lead to such a society seemed like a misstep on Shusterman’s part. But once I finished the book I realized something crucial that I wish had been made clearer by the author; the unspoken beauty of this work is that it is not simply another dystopian world, but one of utilitarianism: the ethic that the best moral action is the one that has the greatest ability to maximize the well-being of the many as opposed to the one. This social approach removes emotion and personal attachment from the equation all-together. As a result, it’s cold and terrifying.

Social Values and Reproductive Rights

The key to understanding this world is to acknowledge that it’s less pro-life than it is pro-optimal-functioning-society. And everyone has to earn their right to life within it. That means, by the time you’re a teenager, you have to have given society a reason to deem you valuable. The parents who choose to unwind their kids are not considered bad people, but good people for understanding the value of a strong, thriving society made up of only strong, thriving people. Yes, it’s a little master-race-y, isn’t it? So obviously, as an ideology it’s problematic and it inherently devalues anyone who is different.

Learning the stories of the unwinds forces the reader to think about what, in this society, is valued, what is not, and how those ideals can be manipulated. And while aborting babies is now illegal, storking is perfectly accepted. This is the act of leaving your newborn on a doorstep, which will make the homeowners legally responsible for it. If that sounds crazy, it’s because it is; and it begs us to consider the issue of reproductive rights and what happens when they are eradicated.

Race

The portrayal of the Other is quite unique in Unwind. In one of my favorite passages, the character Cyfi is described as “umber.” He explains that the term “black” was once used, but was switched to umber, in honor of a mixed-race artist who always used the color umber to paint images of people from African ancestry. Soon after, white people began being referred to as sienna. Cyfi says these are “Better words. Didn’t have no value judgment to them. Of course, it’s not like racism is gone completely, but as my dads say, the veneer of civilization got itself a second coat.”

It should be noted that this reference to his “dads” is the readers first indication that Cyfi is being raised by a gay male couple. In the casualty of very few words, a lot is said; but not much about sexualities is mentioned otherwise.

Religion

The afterlife is obviously  huge aspect of this book, but so it the concept of the Tithe plays a huge role in this book. According to Christianity, members of the religion are supposed to practice tithing: giving one tenth of what you have back to the community, and God. In a world of unwinding, some religious families allow this to apply to their children as well.

A main character, Lev, is a Tithe. He was born, the tenth child, specifically to be so. On his 13th birthday, he will be unwound, considered in this circumstance a great honour for his family and to his God. Lev has been raised with this belief and feels strongly that it makes him special. But when his pastor expressed his own doubts about the world and God, Lev is forced to question everything he knows. As he struggles to find a new version of himself in a world that looks quite different than it did mere hours earlier, Lev finds himself trotting a new path – and it’s one that is both righteous and dangerous.

Final Thoughts

The subtly with which the story unfolds is actually its genius. What I disliked about the book at first, became what made it so powerful by the end. Slowly but surely, all of the issues caused by a purely Utilitarian society come to light: the value of life, the definition of consciousness, medical science, race, religion, and terrorism.

The issues explored throughout the book, however passingly, are jarring enough to make you stop and think. More discussion would have been welcomed, but ultimately it’s still a strong narrative structure featuring well developed characters.

I give this read 4 Spades: ♠♠♠♠*

*My rating is based on a five-spade system. The rating is decided based upon how well/uniquely the book: 1) develops story and plot; 2) develops characters; 3) accomplishes or deconstructs the conceits of its genre; 4) raises thought-provoking issues; 5) discusses important issues. This system has been developed according to my own understanding of what makes a book "good." It is therefore subjective.

Dawn (Octavia Butler): Book Review

Science Fiction; Fantasy; Post-Apocalyptic ♠♠♠♠♠

Author: Octavia Butler

Something a little different today: a book review of one of my all-time science fiction favorites (expect a few more scattered book reviews in the future). This book was published in 1987, the first of the Xenogenesis trilogy. It holds a rating of 4.09 on Goodreads.

Lilith Lyapo awoke from a centuries-long sleep to find herself aboard the vast spaceship of the Oankali. Creatures covered in writhing tentacles, the Oankali had saved every surviving human from a dying, ruined Earth. They healed the planet, cured cancer, increased strength, and were now ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth–but for a price.

This is a brilliant fantasy narrative that never misses an opportunity to remind the reader of the ongoing atrocities that exist in our world, while maintaining an intriguing story of its own.

I read Dawn without having ever really engaged with science fiction or fantasy before-hand, and it opened so many new doors for me. It was a very unique experience because I felt as though I was being introduced to a new world alongside the character, Dawn, who wakes up centuries after the destruction of Earth to find herself on an alien planet she never knew existed. In learning about the Oankali creatures and their way of life, Dawn is forced to reconsider everything she once knew about the world and how it works. As a result, a great number of issues are explored, making reading the book an extremely fruitful exercise in critical thought.

Please note: As I discuss the themes, some plot points will be eluded to, prompting this “minor spoilers” notice.

Race

Octavia Butler is one of the few renowned black sci-fi writers. So it’s no surprise that this book explores issues of race. What is a surprise, however, is that the exploration unfolds on two levels.

Dawn (a black woman) is the chosen one, that is, the Oankali have decided she will be a leader among a small group of people salvaged from Earth to restore it with them. However, prepping her for her return often mirrors the experiences of black slaves. She was taken from her home (Earth) without consent. She is kept in small, bare quarters, and initially told nothing about where she is or why. Her captors study her from a position of superiority and authority. Her attempts at rebellion result in punishment; and eventually she learns that the only way to survive is to accept her situation.

At this point, the roles shift to some extent. Now, Dawn has the opportunity to study the Oankali. She finds their appearance disturbing, and their culture impossible to relate to. In many ways, her Othering of the Oankali also mirrors the concept of race-supremacy.

Gender and Sexualities

Dawn is a strong female lead and the idea that she is chosen to be the first person back on Earth also positions her as a matriarch. Of course, there are feminist connotations to this that I can appreciate; but it is the Oankali that become the most interesting in regards to concepts of gender.

The Oankali can be male, female, or neutral. Of the three genders, only the neutral sex is the only one that can procreate. In order to do this, it must mate with a male and female (simultaneously). The Oankali therefore must maintain three-way relationships, and each child has three parents.

The entire concept is difficult to grasp and the scenes in which it is explained or performed are difficult to follow. This allows us to think about how narrow mainstream understandings of gender and sexualities are, and opens up discussions of traditional values. For Dawn, the idea of sex with the Oankali becomes a point of serious self-evaluation and stress.

Reproductive Rights

In order to rebuild the world, repopulation must take place. The Oankali have saved hundreds of humans, both male and female, but they are not planning on simply returning them to Earth alone. In fact, the Oankali believe it would be morally wrong to give Earth back to humans who would (according to their genetic makeup) inevitably destroy themselves and the planet once again. The compromise? The next generation to inhabit Earth would have to be human/oankali.

Interspecies relationships mean there is a lot at stake, namely, the continuation of the human race (or what will be left of it). Dawn and the other humans must decide how they feel about the extinction of a purely human breed – and whether they even have a choice in the matter.

Final Thoughts

This book introduced me to a genre, and made me think about so many aspects of humanity and society.

The prose were not the most elegant, but the story was fascinating. The plot does not move very quickly, but that is to serve the purpose of making the reader think about the ideas being presented. The main character’s point of view is just the right amount of confused, and I found that for the most part she was believable, even if not relatable. The book surprised me, and as far as conceits of the genre go, I think it deconstructed them in a way that made it a wonderful introductory text. A lot of issues were explored, and adequately discussed in the moments where Dawn and the Oankali try to understand one another.

I give this book 5 spades ♠♠♠♠♠*

*My rating is based on a five-spade system. The rating is decided based upon how well/uniquely the book: 1) develops story and plot; 2) develops characters; 3) accomplishes or deconstructs the conceits of its genre; 4) raises thought-provoking issues; 5) discusses important issues. This system has been developed according to my own definition of what makes a book "good." It is therefore subjective.

Silent

Dawn tried to make out her reflection in the pool beneath her bare feet; tried to decide if she was still herself. It was too shallow, though, and instead she glared right through it. Wiggling her toes to disturb the water, Dawn wondered if it would be wise to drink something soon. She had been told she would need much less nourishment on Kakisto – they had altered her system for that to be true. So, no, she was not thirsty. But she did feel an impassioned desire to have the things she once needed and wanted.

Dawn had not been the rebellious type in her past – but that was the past. Nowadays, she often found herself fantasizing about anything that would upset them or disrupt their plans. Kneeling down so that her knees rested upon the rocky surface, Dawn bowed her head to the puddle and took in what little she could. She knew it would not do much to change things, but it felt good to resist. If she had been strong enough to not follow their instructions to begin with, things might have been different. Instead, she had let them steal her from her home, degrade her body and mind, and transport her to a life of endless experiments and hard labor.

It had been a quiet night when they had come. After an arduous journey, Dawn and her sister, Callie, had been hiding out under a mountain’s cliff, trying to get some rest. The troops were coming, but they were always coming, so it was as good a place to stop as any other.

There had been a few things Dawn wanted to tell Callie, but she couldn’t form the words. She was creating a dithyramb in her head, set to a montage of all the good times they had had together. Dawn had known it was coming to an end. How long could they really run for? Their dark skin was beginning to itch and burn in the blazing sun, their voices becoming hoarse in the crass environment.

The government had claimed the Trade was for the better; that the sweltering sun and world water depletion had made our world uninhabitable, but somehow the rich folks were all managing. They were building fancy protective homes – homes they were refusing to share.

All these thoughts and more danced in Dawn’s head as she drifted off.

When they awoke to the Troops hovering over them Callie tried to run but was promptly gunned down. Dawn watched it happen; the sound of the gunfire pierced through her ears and boomed inside of her head. And then, everything fell silent.

Callie’s body bounced up and down before going limp. A blanket of sand swirled about her, subsequently working its way into Dawn’s eyes. She didn’t rub them, didn’t soak them with tears, didn’t breathe. It seemed an eternity before she tried to gasp for air and project her sadness. But even as she did so, the sorrow and shock simply sat there, in her gut. Silent.

Kakisto had no oxygen, false gravity, very little water, and a variety of unrecognizable plant life the Troops claimed would be sufficient sustenance. They also told her that she could stop fighting for air. Dawn tried to gasp again, and again, but could only feel an unenthusiastic pounding against her chest when she did so. There was no sound, and no scream – unless she was sleeping. In her dreams, the screaming never stopped. But then she’d wake; and of course, there would be no sound. There’d only be the gnawing sensation that it was time to get back to work.

Dawn had been on the Harvest squad for a month, and was sadly excited for the day’s rotation. Digging pools would be a welcomed change of pace. That’s how she knew she’d been altered. Dawn was not herself anymore. In fact, Dawn wasn’t sure she was a person at all anymore.

But at the pools she would drink. With pride and resentment, she would drink. Her own silent rebellion.

 

 

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Corrected

“Mrs. Wright, there’s someone here to see you.”

Kimberly sighed at the voice on the intercom. It was nearly time for lunch and she had been looking forward to the break before her afternoon appointments, which she knew would be excruciating. But Chase had let the visitor know she was in; he always did, no matter how many times she asked him to be more discrete. She would have to let him go – next week, when her busy season lulled.

“Send them in,” she replied, trying not to sound bothered by the circumstances.

Benny strode through the doorway, confident in a way that bordered on arrogance. He wore a deep blue suit better suited to the 1960s, but somehow, he was pulling it off. Kimberly forced herself to look into his eyes, straighten her spine, and hold a steady voice despite the quiver intent on taking over.

“Make it quick. I have a Nyctophobic at one, and a patient who believes he has found a portal to Jotunheim at three. And I’d like to eat at some point, if that’s not too much to ask for.”

“Why Ms. Wright, such a busy bee.”

“Mrs. It’s Mrs. Now.”

Benny let one side of his upper lip curl, forming a malevolent smirk that made Kimberly even more uncomfortable. He pulled out the chair at her desk and sat facing her, never letting his glare waiver. After a moment of vexatious silence, Kimberly cleared her throat, racking her brain for something clever to say. Before she could speak, Benny interrupted.

“We have another one for you.”

Kimberly’s heart fell into her stomach, nestled itself between her organs, and tugged at her intestines. She averted eye contact, unable to falsify her bravery any longer.

“His name is Avery, Avery Johnson. Thirty-two years old, lives in –“

“No. Please. I’ve been cooperative for longer than necessary and I believe –“

Lives in New Haven.” He bared his teeth, a reminder that his charm was a mere cover for the depths of his evil.

Her breathing became laborious now as she tried to stop herself short of begging.

The Correctional Program had been such a naïve dream. Back when she first met Benny and the others, they had all been youthful idealists, too intellectually inclined for their own good. The notion was simple, stop cramming people into the violent and deprecating environment of prison, and start addressing the real issues.

The mind was such a finicky thing; it could be manipulated by nature, or by science. The latter, they presumed, could do some real good. So they set out on a mission, one messed-up brain at a time. But over the years, and through the failures, Kimberly grew. And with that growth came the realization that just because a theory is beautiful and beloved by a group of like-minded peers, does not mean it’s worth pursuing. The ramifications had startled Kimberly into a new person. Well, as new as a person could become of their own free will.

“I’ll be sending him in on Monday afternoon. If you don’t want the details, I’ll spare you.” He spat, “so sensitive you’ve become.”

“Please,” Kimberly whispered desperately but it was too late. Benny had risen, and crossed the room towards the door.

Yes, she would indeed have to fire Chase.

Duplicitous

Someone else lives inside my head now. Or, I am a shell for someone else’s mind. I can’t decide; but I prefer the former. It implies I still exist, however true or untrue that may be.

“No big deal,” I was told after the accident. “Just a snip here, a snip there. A replacement or two inside there. Good as new.”

And here I am, a shared space.

In all fairness though, I’m mostly me; but every once in a while – like a switch – I’m incalculable.

Dangerous, mysterious, out of my mind.

And here I am, blood on my face.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

No Way Out

She had been real at some point; of that, he was almost certain. They had travelled to the New World together. Both had been cautious, aware of the risks, and prepared to face them. There was nothing left for them on Earth; they had agreed. They had looked one another in the eyes and promised that, come what may, they’d never regret the decision.

But Joshua was full of regrets.

Upon their arrival, they had faced a number of disastrous obstacles, not the least of which had been the climate. It had been said that the environment would be reminiscent of Earth and that bodies would naturally adjust to the minor differences. Evolution. But that wasn’t the case. It was cold when it should have been hot, hot when it should have been cold – everything came in extremes.

There were days when the UV rays were so strong that the slightest of exposure would peel away flesh in an instant. It was like acid. The medics couldn’t do much except give you aloe and empty promises of biological adaptation. Similarly, there were days when the cold would create a layer of frost upon the skin that would tug and tear until; once again, the flesh would peel. Again, the medics offered little in the way of healing. Time and adjustment – that was the best an optimist could hope for.

And Joshua was not an optimist.

“Climate change was pretty bad down there, too,” she’d say.

No. It wasn’t, he’d think. No one had known the true ramifications of climate change until they left Earth. Now, it all seemed a bit silly. From overpopulation to barren lands, Joshua had reached an excruciating limit on how well he could cope with extremes. He could feel himself growing resentful. He missed the predictability of Earth, of his job, of his meager day-to-day. He missed climbing into bed with her, burying his body inside of hers after a long hard day. It wasn’t like that in the New World. The work was harder, the days longer, the exhaustion far more detrimental.

Then the new viruses spread.

“You have to send us back! We aren’t equipped for this! It’s not working!” He screamed, pouted, and fought with the hoards of dissatisfied customers in the Diasporic Hell they called the New World.

If this was the future, Joshua wanted nothing to do with it. It was a world built upon lies, an ideology grounded in fantasy. Utopia, as it turns out, just doesn’t exist.

She had convinced him that having a family would make it all worth it, that there were no other options, that this was the way out. He had fallen for it – the illusion of sanctuary. And now, he was paying the price. Their bodies could not function, could not do what they needed them to do. The infertility chips had been removed, but the damage had been done. The damage, in all honesty, was ongoing.

She became weaker every day. Her cough was hoarse; her internal temperature was all over the place, and her raw exposed flesh was too painful to withstand his touch. Meanwhile, his outer layer had become numb and the dull, deep, pain had become a part of him.

Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, the harsh terrain took her. She was swallowed whole by the lie of a better tomorrow.

And Joshua was full of regrets.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

(This is an independent follow up to: The Way Out)

Droid Rage

Tully swung at Van’s jaw with as much power as he could draw up. The connection was perfect, sending Van down so hard that he kissed the doorknob before flopping to the linoleum floor. Tully took a second to admire his work – sturdy strength was his constitution – then he snatched the suitcase and took off down the corridor and out the side door, straight into the night.

The further Tully ran, the smaller the university became; until eventually the darkness swallowed it up whole. It was only then that he felt safe enough to send a d-note to his boss. He took cover in an alleyway and pressed the COMM button on his wrist. The holographic screen appeared. “Secured”, he whispered into it, and hit send. The message was sent directly to its linked COMM, Sera, who did not respond. The fewer the correspondence, the fewer the hackers knew.

Afterwards, he crouched and placed the suitcase gently in front of him. He was under strict instructions not to open it. Not that it would have been all that easy to if he had dared. The case was made of a metal denser than any Tully had ever encountered, and its bolts were DNA activated (something he didn’t have, anyways). None of that child’s play fingerprint recognition stuff – whatever was in that case was on lockdown.

The thing about being a professional thief is that you had to have a precarious nature to begin with. It meant that secrets were liable to get leaked. That’s why people came to Tully when they had something worth keeping plugged. He was one of the few who could get the job done, and be satisfied with the payout alone. Most people would not risk their asses without knowing what for. But Tully wasn’t most people. In fact, he wasn’t people at all. Being a droid had its benefits, and this was one.

Back at the safe house, the suitcase exchanged hands along with the money. Tully thanked his client – the man in white – and went on his way. Another mission down and another penny closer to Indigo. Yes, being a droid had its benefits, but Tully was sure being a man had more. Indigo was the only one out there with the technology to help him realize his dream, but she didn’t come cheap.

That night, Tully was mimicking sleep as he always did, when the d-note came in. “RETURN TO BASE.” It was an odd request at this hour, but Tully was only self-aware enough to notice that, not to question it. He certainly hadn’t been programmed to challenge Sera or her orders. So, he picked himself up and headed to base. Once there, Tully waited longer than he had expected to for Sera to arrive. When she finally did, she did so with a clatter, swerving in without elegance. Her hovercraft was noisy and dented, and she poured out of it dizzily.

“Accident? Are you in need of medical assistance?” Tully asked.

“You could say so. My hover was used as target practice this evening. A war with the Looters is inevitable, unless we beat them to the kill.”

Tully tilted his head and sent a signal to his chip to decrease room tone. He was unsure he had heard her correctly.

“One kill, Tully. And you’ll have your Indigo money.”

“But – I’m not programmed to -”

“You will be.” Sera hailed over her mechanic, Whisk.

It took only an hour of programming and rebuilding for Tully to be mission-ready. He was excited. His propensity for violence had been amplified, and he was that much closer to buying Indigo’s services.

“I don’t know why that’s so important to you,” Sera sighed as Tully geared up. “You have everything you need now – strength, intelligence, and as much reason and emotion as any person would need.”

“I only have what I’m programmed to have. I want to exist outside of this,” he pointed to his head, indicating his personality chip.

“Nobody exists outside of their heads Tully. We’re all just programmed. And the irony is that your desire to have the impossible – well, that makes you as human as they come.” Sera smiled, and sent him on his way.

Tully found the Looters exactly where he was told he would. From outside of the warehouse, he had to increase his ear chips to be sure, but once he heard their riotous thunder he was all systems go. With his leg and arm power set to max, he kicked in the steel warehouse door, sending it flying across the room and into a Looters’ throat. The rest of the gang raised their firearms which were some of the most sophisticated Tully’s info-read had ever picked up. A danger warning displayed in his line of sight for a moment, before his new ultraviolent programming overrode it.

It was a massacre. Five on one, but the Looters didn’t stand a chance. They were all at one time state-funded criminals, trained for battle in a time of less efficient droids. Some had even been backseat drivers, controlling droids in battle from a safe distance, which meant they had rarely even put their ill-training to use. Tully came at them with a force they could not have predicted. He was stronger, faster, impervious. Their fire bounced off of his strong metal skin. In hand-to-hand combat, his blows were fatal, while their caused more harm to themselves than to him. By the end, the five men lay mangled, sodden in their own blood.

Tully took a second to admire his work. His last job. Tonight, he would pay a visit to Indigo, and she would give him what he wanted – or else.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©