The Wastes – Part 5

If anyone had come through the dealership after the killing I’d sanctioned, they didn’t leave much of a trace. Perhaps some tell-tale marks in the thick layer of dust that seemed to coat the entire interior, but that was all.

The junkie’s body was still here, as was all the detritus he lived with. If anything, it was a handy reminder of why, in my drunken stupor, I had thought it was a good idea to OK the request to have him killed.

Only now it was looking less like some petty squabble getting resolved, and more like the start of some major move against me and my organisation.

I shoved the door shut as best as I could and pushed the body to one side so I could reach the computer. A few moments later, the memory unit I’d salvaged from another associate of mine was hooked up to the device.

There wasn’t much to see. A lot of the information had become corrupted when he got shot. He was certainly a Berkeley Arms unit – based on designs I’d created.

The difference was in the AI. It was much more sophisticated than anything they came up with while I was with the company. No wonder I didn’t clock that he wasn’t a person. I probably would have been fooled even if I hadn’t been drunk most the time.

The memory unit didn’t have much else of any use. No visual or audio files to scour for more information. No deeply-embedded data or anything that might be able to give me a clue about what was going on.

I’d come here for two reasons – first, it was closer than my penthouse, and probably had a working computer. Second, was the junkie.

Unlike the other body, this one had some crude stitches over the patch of skin I needed to make the incision in. Undeterred, I cut in and within moments I’d retrieved another memory unit.

After I’d hooked it up to the computer, one file jumped out at me. It was just labelled with my first name. It had been altered, some time after I’d OK’ed the hit on him.

Someone had removed it and reinserted back into him after he’d died. I was just following a trail of breadcrumbs that had been set out for me.

As if the feeling I was in over my head wasn’t bad enough already, my head started pulsing with a heavy reminder that I was horrible dehydrated and hungover.

I took a deep breath and opened the file.

It was a video, taken from someone’s point of view. Probably the junkie, seeing as I recognised the front of the dealership, with the old, dusty festive ornaments and paraphernalia.

A suited man walked into view. James Berkeley Jr. I never liked the snivelling runt. At least he’d grown a bit since the last time I’d seen him.

He pouted. “So… You can’t tell me anything about him?”

“No, man. My… Memory might need a little jogging, you know?”

He smiled. “Jogging?”

“Yes sir.” The tone in the junkie’s voice suggested he actually thought he had the upper hand.

“Let me see what I can do.”

A jump cut, and a massive shift in the timecode on the footage. A noise wakes the junkie. Moments later, the dealership’s back door flies open and knocks him back. A shadowy figure allows him a few words. A trigger is pulled and the image goes blank.

It was the first time I’d seen the real-world consequences of my role as a fixer, of sorts. I’d set God-only-knows how many people up with assassins, robbers and thieves. This was the first time I’d seen any of it play out. Let alone from the victim’s point of view.

I always knew what happened, but seeing it like this reminded me why I tried to keep my anonymity and maintain some professional distance from it all.

Another jump. Berkeley Jr. is leaning over the corpse, peering into his eyes. He mutters something into a radio about a test.

Another jump – jarring, this time, because it could be from the deceased’s point of view, only that it is in a stark white office, long after the last of his battery power would have died. It looks almost like it was footage shot on a webcam. You could see the whole city-state spread out far as the eye could see, far below the window at the far end of the huge room.

Berkeley Jr. slides into the high-backed chair. The move seems rehearsed.

“Hi Dad. Hope you don’t mind the highlights package. I figured you’d get around to this place sooner or later. Don’t know if you keep up with current events in the city from all the way out there, but I run the company now. Old Man Carlos met with a rather unfortunate ‘accident’,” – his air quotes and loaded tone sickened me. “Why you chose him over me – the rightful heir – I don’t know. Anyway,” he clapped for emphasis, then opened his hands palm-up, as if he were weighing something in each of them, “– cosmic balance restored.”

I never liked the boy. He was never right to run that company. He knew that. He was impulsive, arrogant, rude, ambitious, and… Well… Crazy. Just like his mother.

She’d died in an ‘accident’ too. There was no proof, but Junior and I both know who had done it.

“You might have gathered that we stepped up our AI testing programme. I know you didn’t like using the weapons you built – and they are weapons, Dad. Never made sense to me that you build an army you never wanted to use.”

They were meant to be tough to withstand hazards during land reclamation work in the Wates, and civil defence in the cities. Landmine clearance, police patrols and that sort of thing. Not used to fight more wars. The last thing humanity needed was more war. That was partly why we kept them dumb, and didn’t dabble with the AI too much.

Junior never understood that. To him they were always toys, or – worse – a tool he could exploit to get what he wanted. He came in close to the camera.

“Especially when you fuck off to the wastes, leave that useless old fart Carlos in charge, crawl into a bottle and keep making money from other peoples’ misery anyway.”

Even closer. More menacing.

“You’re a failure, Dad. Face it. You start and you can’t finish. You don’t have the drive to succeed. Win. You lack vision. I’m the best thing you ever created and even I didn’t turn out like you wanted. You’re a fuck up.”

He sounded like he was stuck halfway between being a jargon-spouting corporate drone and a psychopath. Probably a direct result of being in too many boardrooms.

He leaned back in his chair.

“But that’s OK. Because I don’t have to put up with the knowledge that you’re out there much longer. The fight to take back the Wastes starts here, Dad. You’ve exploited the people for too long, and kept them stuck in their barbaric ways while you make money off the whole sorry lot of them. We’re going to take back the Wastes, and we’re coming after you, your organisation, and everyone you know… See you around, Dad.”

The screen died.

I shut my eyes and waited for a bullet in the back of my head. Nothing happened.

He was a lunatic, but perhaps he was right – I was exploiting the people out here. I always just thought it was a service people wanted. Sure, sometimes there was the odd grey area now, but when I first started it was all about providing justice out here, pure and simple, served on-demand.

Maybe I’d got too distant. Perhaps I was part of the problem, now. Perhaps I’d helped start a cycle of violence the Wastes couldn’t work itself out of because people like me were still providing the means to indulge in it.

I’d been out here well over 20 years. Pinpointing where it had all gone wrong was impossible. It wasn’t hard to imagine that the odd morally dubious contract here and shady request there, over the years, would snowball into something like this.

I hated myself even more that I already did for being so far-gone that it took my lunatic of a son to make me start to realise what I was doing. There was a world outside of my penthouse and my computer, and I was helping to ruin it.

I’d left the city – and the company – to avoid doing exactly that.

I pondered my next move, and had absolutely no idea.

In the old days, in Hollywood films, I’d have gone on some kind of one-man rampage against the system in a quest for redemption. There’d have been a huge showdown with my son, perhaps over a nuclear reactor as it was about to blow up or something. We’d both say some dramatic things we might or might not mean, and one of us would have died.

But this wasn’t old Hollywood. And, much as it pained me to agree with my son, I was a fuck up. And I was responsible for God-only-knows how much misery.

Christ, I needed a drink.

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