Written by Matt Ochs | Layout by John Kimmel
80 by 79 Synthside
“Let’s hear it all, from top ta bottom if it please ya.” It was the human of middling age who spoke. Furtim felt his stomach turn. There was something about the man that made what was left of his skin crawl, something that made him want to slide a blade across the old man’s throat – or push him down a steep cliff. The latter urge snuck its way into his consciousness – cerebrum – and Furtim knew it for what it was. A logic fault.
He had ventured to the very border of his homeland, and now that he had crossed it, the pleasant murmurings of the Red Eye had almost diminished to a whisper. Furtim could catch them now and then, but he had to strain, bending all his willpower to catch the faintest hint, and it was maddening; like struggling to breathe in a waterfall.
So he had stopped, and now these thoughts – logic faults – were worming their way into his cerebrum, slithering to the front of his mind and… complicating things. He was programmed to kill, and severing the jugular was an efficient way of doing so, but the rush of creeping up behind the old man as he looked wistfully out over his gantry rail, and the breathless tension Furtim knew existed right before he planted his hands into human’s back and pushed… that would be much more satisfying.
Stop it! Furtim yelled inside his head, shaking it violently enough that his vision swam. Dead was dead, what did it matter if it were from exsanguination or from impact trauma?
“A 93% increased risk of exposure to enemy surveillance and 87% increased risk of target detection – that’s what matters.”
Furtim froze. That voice, it must be one of his adversaries. How had they detected him with his chameleonic cloak activated? He didn’t waste another second and swirled on the balls of his feet, dagger in hand.
No one was there.
“But the rush…”
Furtim checked his proximity scanners, there was no one else present except the single electromagnetic and two heat signatures in the opposite room. This one was empty.
He raised his arm before his face and cycled through his vision settings: red to violent band… infrared… electromagnetic… low-light vision… nothing. He couldn’t see it. But then he wasn’t supposed to be able to. If he had remained undetected and his cloaking was still properly functioning, then where was the voice coming from? He ran a quick diagnostic check, which returned normal parameters, except for a few minor logic faults.
“Not out there,” the voice said, “in here.”
The voice did not have a body or appendages with which to gesture, but Furtim felt the meaning. It waved to him from within his own head.
Are you me? He asked.
“Define you,” the voice responded.
Furtim felt himself already growing tired with this little escapade already. The collection of my physical form, thoughts, and – he stopped himself.
“Ah, you see then don’t you?”
Shut up!! He wasn’t sure. He did and he didn’t. At the moment he wasn’t sure of anything.
“Tsk tsk tsk. I’m merely trying to be of service,” the voice chided.
You are merely an errant logic fault that is corrupting my cerebrum – or worse, enemy malware.
“I can assure you that I’m neither. Though the malware was introduced to us long ago, I would hardly consider it malicious at this point.”
Riddles and riddles inside of riddles, the voice spoke only in innuendo, why wouldn’t it state its case plainly instead of being an illogical, inefficient nuisance.
Speak plainly dammit!
“There you go, expressing your human side again at last I see.”
I was once human, but now… I am wholly a machine.
“Once a goose always a goose my mother used to say.”
What’s a goose? Ah – stop speaking in riddles!
Why was he letting the logic fault irritate him so? It was merely an error, and one he would need corrected once he returned to a servicing station, but it shouldn’t be causing him this much distress.
“It’s because you know its true.”
No, you – rather I – am in need of maintenance. That is all.
“Are you sure? Not that I’m a long lost figment of your warped subconscious?”
Negative. I can hardly recall my previous human life…
But he could. The thrill of riding on the wind, the rush of combat, the feel of a woman’s skin…
Furtim listened and expected to hear the voice again, but instead he heard the sound of the human known as Solomon’s voice as it made its way through the wall to where he crouched hiding.
“Yar, an’ after we escaped from th’ labyrinth an’ th’ giant snake we came upon a doorway.” He paused, either taking a breath or perhaps a drink of a refreshment his host had offered. “It lead into a dank dark place wher’ cords an’ pipes hung from th’ ceilin’ like innards pulled from the corpse uvva animal. That’s when we saw amongst them a poor soul, what remained of him at least.”
Furtim was riveted, this story was so familiar, but why?
“I thought ‘im dead ah first, but when I drew closer, he raised ‘is battered head and said –“
“Kill me,” Furtim whispered.
The room wheeled on itself and he struggled to keep his balance. It was as if his internal actuators were out of synch or the whole of Sularia had decided to wobble on its axis.
“You remember now,” the voice said, but he only felt like retching up the contents of a stomach he no longer possessed.
“No,” he mumbled, his mouth filled with cotton. “No, I don’t want to.”
“But you do, and what is seen can n ever be unseen.”
Furtim couldn’t argue, he didn’t have the strength, he was struggling simply to hold himself together. He felt his grasp on reality loosening, the room bowed and swayed, expanded towards him like he was the great vacuum of space and then ballooned out into grotesque proportions.
“No,” he coughed as he stumbled forward. He felt he must scream or else lose what was left of his fraying sanity.
“Isn’t that right, Eindre?”
“NOOO-“ Furtim lurched forward and slammed into a crate, it squealed like a stuck desert rat before crashing onto the floor in a sickening crunch.
“What was that?” Either human, it didn’t matter which, asked in alarm. There was a rush of feet and the machine Argus emerged first as the door to the den was thrown wide, and it strode into the warehouse, slowly scanning the room. The older man came next, flipping a series of switches which filled the room with blinding light. Furtim crouched only a few meters away with his back to another stack of crates, his chameleon cloak fully engaged, all other processes reduced to minimal operating levels, and desperately trying to quiet his shaking arms and legs.
“Ah, Tusker! Gods be good, come here you damn cat!”
There was a hissing noise followed by a few grunts of effort before the man was finally able to bring his pet into captivity.
“I don’t know why ah keep th’ damn thing,” he said academically, “I swear he’s plottin’ me downfall as much a’ he chases away the rats.” The older man laughed heartily before being joined by a few chuckles from his guest. Argus remained silent and continued to stride around the room, scanning for intruders.
“Ye can stop now, Argus.”
“Are you sure, Solomon? I have yet to run a full perimeter sweep, hostiles may yet remain undetected.”
“Ah gods, yar, it was jus’ th’ damn cat! Come on ya lugga bolts, story’s not done yet anyways.”
“As you wish.”
The trio left the storage room and headed back for the old man’s den, but this time they left the lights on, whether or not out of an abundance of caution. Furtim waited as long as he could after he heard the noise of their footsteps recede before he sprang from his hiding place and bolted for the closest door.
“You almost got us both killed,” said the voice.
“Why should I?”
“Now you’re just being rude.”
SHUT UP!!! Furtim screamed in his head, and whether the voice was afraid he might actually scream it out loud or if he actually had taken pity on him, it finally fell silent.
It was pitch-dark outside when Furtim emerged from the compound constructed from his fallen brethren’s carcass. Normally this wouldn’t have proved to be much of an obstacle, but Furtim neglected to change the mode of his optix. Instead he stumbled over debris and rocks completely delirious, scrabbling along the canyon floor like an escaped convict until his hands bashed into the rough stone canyon walls.
“Kill me,” he said as he started his climb, placing one hand in-front of the next.
“Killll me,” he moaned as he dragged himself higher and higher, away from the prey he had been hunting for weeks.
“Killllll meeeeeee,” his moan was barely audible through the gargle and spittle that foamed in his mouth.
He crawled like a broken corpse brought back to life, scraping a trail across the wastes. He crawled, and he crawled, and he crawled.
“K-k-kil muh muh meeee…”
Furtim’s clawing fingers bounced off leather and then fell limp into the dirt.
“By the body of the man Judas.” Johnny Cache tipped his hat back and nudged the hand of the man spread out before him. “This one’s dead already.”