The Wastes: Part Two

I went to the meeting alone, like usual. After I’d seen the man from the city at the dealership, I’d been trying to work out how to turn the situation to my advantage. I hadn’t come up with anything beyond playing dumb. I could try and pull off some elaborate bait and switch, or contact him from a distance somehow, but anything like that would alert him to the fact something was wrong.

So I just went along as normal.

We always met in some kind of derelict industrial space. Some people think it had formed part of a factory or a refinery before the war. If it had, there was little evidence of it now beyond some tangled piping showing from just below the sand. I strolled into the same warehouse unit as usual, right on time.

The man from the city was already standing in the middle of the vast, empty space. He had the usual envelope in his hand, and his immaculate, perfectly cut suit still made him stand out. Nobody dressed like that out here.

I cast a wary eye around the gantries and walkways that made up the warehouse’s upper level. All clear.

The sandstorm had long since died down, and I couldn’t see any sign of anything untoward while I’d been watching the place earlier. I had the unshakeable feeling that I’d been hired to kill a machine as some kind of elaborate set-up. I wanted to find out why, but I never asked about the target. Call it professional pride, if you like.

Besides, I had no leads and no time. Just the questions. Why get me to kill a machine? I didn’t even know mechanoids could be that sophisticated. And what was that experiment six he’d mentioned when he’d followed me into the dealership? It wasn’t as if the man from the city was checking my handiwork – I had the distinct impression I’d have been killed if he’d found me there.

I think the target was meant to kill me, but he’d just… given up.

I approached him and told him it was done. I showed him the photos to prove it. He nodded, handed me the envelope and found a lighter to burn the photos. As the flaming imaged fell to the ground, he realised I was loitering.

“We’re done here,” he said in the most dismissive tone he could muster.

I gave him a nod and he started to turn away. “What’s experiment six?”

He froze in his tracks and slowly turned back towards me. His glare told me that he was trying to work out if I was some kind of informant, or at the very least that he was trying to work out why I might be asking.

“He talked.”

“In a sense.” The man from the city didn’t have to know I’d overheard him on the radio. The gambit only paid off in part though, as he just looked at me, waiting for me to elaborate.

I sighed and kicked the dust at my feet. “Look, if you shoot a man in the head, it leaves a distinctive wound. And… Well. You saw the photographs,” I looked up at him for a little dramatic effect. “He wasn’t a man.”

The man looked at me for several seconds in silence, weighing up his options. “I thought you never asked about targets.”

On the spot, I finally worked out how I could explain the change in my professional approach.

“Oh no, I don’t – When it’s a person. But I think I can justify it when I’m sent to kill a mechanoid.” I paused a second as I tried to check my surroundings as casually as I could. “I didn’t know those things existed outside of stories.” Something didn’t feel right. “So what was it, training? Clean up? Did one of you computers suddenly sprout legs and run away with the company files?” I had to ask again. “What’s experiment six?”

He smiled. “It’s classified.”

The sound of his voice told me that was all the explanation I was going to get before he started walking away. I thought about drawing my pistol, threatening him, and demanding to know why I’d been hired to kill a machine.

Did I really care about it that much? Was it any more than curiosity?

After all, a target’s a target.

I guess it didn’t matter if they were flesh and blood, or metal and circuits.

I just hadn’t seen a mechanoid before. Maybe I’d hoped it would be the start of some grand adventure; one that could get me out of the Wastes. But no; all I was going to get was a brief answer that told me nothing and reminded me of my place on the bottom rung.

A popping noise interrupted my train of thought before everything went white. It was so faint. The shot must have come from so far away. The man from the city turned to me as I felt my legs fall out from underneath me.

The world started to drift sideways, out of my control.

–————————————————————————-

Berkeley Arms Operating system CX4003

>Unknown error. Critical failure.

> Building diagnostics report.

Audio backup… Complete

Video backup…. Complete

Hardware status… Complete

Log data… Complete

>Send diagnostics report?

Y

> Perform redundant system activation? [WARNING: Beta process, designated experimental – 7. Field test protocol.]

Y

Legs: Functional

Torso: Functional

Arms: Functional – Right, intermittent data loss.

Head: Critical failure – Right camera. Central CPU. Skull integrity lost.

> Activating

> Re-routing power

> Complete

> Reboot system?

Y

> Booting

.

..

————————————————————————–

The next thing I remember, I was gasping as I came to. I couldn’t feel anything, and all my joints felt stiff. My vision had a large black spot on the right.

I was staring up at the walkways and gantries, on my back in the dust and sand.

I don’t know how long I stayed there for. I waited for the screaming agony of the bullet wound to tell me I was still alive and not drifting into a coma or something.

It didn’t come. Neither did the sweet relief of dark oblivion.

I carefully tried to move my fingers and toes. My right hand struggled to play ball. It got there eventually, but I knew I’d never shoot again.

This was why I never asked clients about targets. I should have known nothing good would come of it. I was too expendable. Hired guns like me were everywhere out here. It was probably one that got me.

I think I blacked out once or twice more. I don’t know how long for. I remember trying to work out how I could haul myself back to town. To a doctor who could patch me up. I started grabbing at the sand and trying to drag my body away, but my arms just couldn’t muster the strength to do it.

The man from the city stood over me. He watched as I made my slow, weak attempts at moving. I kept staring at the walkways. A bird flew away.

He silently moved his lips.

If I kept moving and found help, I’d be able to get out of this life. If I couldn’t get out the Wastes, I’d be a farmer. I always thought I’d make a good farmer. People always need farmers out here in the Wastes. I could earn a living looking after cattle and crops; grow something to make up for all the lives I’d cut short.

The man from the city was joined by a man I’d never seen before. He held a rifle. He crouched next to me while the first man kept silently moving his lips.

The second man tapped something on the side of my head. There was a loud crunch.

“-n you hear me?”

I fixed my gaze on the man from the city. He smiled.

“Oh good.” He reached into a pocket and produced a small radio. “This is Watkins. Experiment seven is a success. Full report to full.”

He nodded at the man with the rifle, who aimed at my good eye and-

–————————————————————————-

Berkeley Arms Operating system CX4003

>Unknown error. Critical failure.

> Building diagnostics report.

Audio backup… Complete

Video backup…. Complete

Hardware status… Complete

Log data… Complete

>Send diagnostics report?

Y

> Perform redundant system activation? [WARNING: Beta process, designated experimental – 7. Field test protocol.]

Y

> Critical failure. System not found.

> Reboot system?

Y

> Booting

.

..

> Critical failure. System not found.

> Reboot system?

Y

> Booting

.

..

> Critical failure. System not found.

> Reboot system?

N

————————————————————————–

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