Dust: Chapter 19 Part 2

I hadn’t really had the thought of anyone ‘benefitting’ from my death before. I’d appreciated that some of the people I’d killed on the job had families that might like it if I died. But the idea that someone would actually be better off if I were to be executed in front of them made me feel very quiet.

Dr Clarkson cleared his throat before speaking again. “Can I ask you a difficult question?”

Gee I wonder what this is going to be about.

[Go ahead.] I whispered.

“Why did you do it?”

I took a moment to myself. I had no idea what my answer was, let alone how to phrase it.

“I mean.” He continued. “To bring an army to our door like that. We’re one of the few peaceful communities out here, why do that to us?”

[When I did it. I had an answer to that question.] I said.[Something about cyborg assassins and multinational corporations. Right now I really don’t know. I can’t even tell you why I took this job in the first place, but at the time I could have written you an essay. Since then I’ve been broken, ruined and rebuilt time and again. My right arm was cut off, my jaw smashed in and my best friend gave up everything he was just so I could keep breathing. What could I possibly have thought was worth any of this?]

Dr Clarkson smirked humourlessly. “Perhaps it had something to do with the world’s first sentient artificial intelligence?”

I couldn’t help but laugh down the cype at that. This wasn’t just any laugh, this was the deep, back of the throat laugh I normally reserve for when someone tells a really filthy joke. This surprised the good doctor more than if I’d started incanting in impossibly deep Latin and rotated my neck 360 degrees.

[Even if it did, it wouldn’t matter.]

“Even if… what?”

[Atom.] I said. [Is not what you or Kitty or PR thinks he is?]

His face hardened. He squared up his shoulders and clenched his brow. “That does not make any sense at all.”

He grimaced and shook his head. Angry at himself. “Why would you expect me to believe that?”

[Because I can prove it.]

He changed the target of his anger to me. “Sir, I have been called many things throughout my life. ‘Stupid’ being a recurring theme to most of it, particularly during my childhood. I like to think I’ve since proved that assessment wrong beyond all reasonable doubt. So I would appreciate…”

[I’ve listened to Professor Sakazato’s development journal. There’s even an embedded video where Atom says as much himself. It’s all in my Neupro if you want it.]

He looked at me like I was a pit bull that just peeled back its lips and snarled at him. “Why do you think I would trust you?”

[I don’t.] I said. [It’s not a matter of trust. It’s not even a matter of your highly evident intelligence. It’s a matter of whether or not you have the balls to accept a challenge to your beliefs.]

Doc Clarkson took a wary step back and eyed me again. Scanning my words for sarcasm.

I wasn’t in the mood for waiting. [It’s in your court Doc. You’ve got world-class hackers in this facility, you can lift the file from my neupro whenever you want. I’ll be playing Tetris.]

When I opened my eyes again I was looking up at the face of the Texan machine gunner.

“Get up you.” Rembrandt’s voice emanated from behind its mouth-shield.

Returning to the flesh after being in a virtual body that never got tired was no fun. I felt organs grumble and muscles complain that I had been ignoring. Then my stomach started give me that ‘since you’re up, could you possibly go gather some food?’ signal. Hang on a second, when had I last eaten?

I sat up and swung my feet off the operating table. Doc Clarkson was nowhere to be seen, but from the light outside it was very late and he probably went back to whatever was left of the demountables to sleep.

“Can we get something to eat?” I asked. And realised I’d said it out loud without getting struck by crippling pain in my chin.

“No you can’t.” Rembrandt replied, like he was telling a bratty kid that the exchange of ice cream for good behaviour was no longer on the table.

I barely heard the answer, too busy feeling around my chin. The plastic jaw felt weird. You don’t often think of the weight your own bones when your muscles move them around, but suddenly replacing a part with a lighter version gave me the strangest feeling of dislocation. I kept slamming my teeth together when I just wanted to close my mouth.

“Don’t just sit there flappin’ yo mouth, get off the fucking table and let’s get moving.” Rembrandt waved me on. “The boss wants to see you.”

“Alright.” I moaned tiredly and gently eased myself off the table.

Rembrandt approached me with a pair of handcuffs again. “Gimmie yo hand.”

I raised up my wrist and he cuffed it. Then he awkwardly fed the other cuff through my belt and closed it around the same wrist. The chain between them was so short he may as well have roped my arm to my side.

Rembrandt led me through the corridors once again. By now the activity had calmed down and very few people were around. The few we did bump into either turned up their noses at me or backed away cautiously. Finally Rembrandt brought me to the most obvious place Patriot Rap had set himself up in. The principal’s office.

The room lived up to my expectations almost perfectly. The walls that lacked either a window or a door were covered in bookcases. Despite how well-read a person of PR’s alleged lyrical talent had to be, I doubted he had read any of them. If anything a guy like him would do all his reading either in his Neupro or on an e-reader. Hell I doubted any of the principals who served time in this room had ever touched those bookcases for much the same reason. Then I realised exactly how much of a blow losing the server room must have been.

A massive American flag stood in for a curtain over the window, from this spot PR had a commanding view of the courtyard outside.
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