I stared at the screen for a while. I don’t know how long, exactly.
Junior was gunning for me – presumably for the satisfaction of wiping me off the face of the Earth as much as for becoming the “bad guy” out here in the Wastes. A convenient figure they could point to and pin the area’s ills on. A target to be destroyed for propaganda.
I could imagine the boardroom conversations and PR right now. I’d be the domino that needed to fall first. An obstacle to progress that simply needed removing. A cancer that had to be cut out.
In the old days, it was easy for a government to point to one person and use them to represent an entire country, movement or ethnic group. The only thing that changed was that now it wasn’t countries pulling the strings. It was vast, corporate-owned and run city-states.
When he took over, Junior still would have needed something to justify testing new AI programmes – a reason to effectively weaponise the mechanoids I’d helped create.
I was a convenient bad guy.
I was well on my way back towards my penthouse, for lack of any other plans, when it hit me. The reason why I didn’t feel like a victim in all this. Why I didn’t feel a righteous indignation at being singled out in this way – I was a bad guy.
I had been exploiting other peoples’ misery – no matter how noble my intentions may have been when I started out.
I told myself that it wasn’t as if I was forcing people to use my services as a fixer and handler. But that was missing the point.
I’d crawled into a bottle, and let the whole “street justice” thing spiral out of control, unchecked. What was initially a way for farmers to get back at bandits became a quick way to orchestrate assassinations on a whim.
I took a little comfort from the fact that I’d never used the services myself. I’d never used my contacts to kill anyone for me. I was just a facilitator. A middle-man. Besides, the money kept me in booze. That was all that mattered.
Besides, the money kept me in booze. That was all that mattered.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought that perhaps Junior had a good reason to be annoyed. Even if he was milking the situation a little bit.
All that was ignoring how I’d simply walked away when I’d suspected he’d killed his mother – or at least been responsible in part. I had no proof, but back then the urge to take my mechanoids on the march was strong. They didn’t have sophisticated AI – they were entirely subservient and ready to respond to my orders. I could have become a dictator… Instead I disappeared and began to drink the pain away.
I was afraid of what I could become… Seems I never noticed I was heading that way anyway.
Finally, I looked up at my penthouse. It was still some way into the distance, but near enough that I could almost taste the alcohol. Not to mention smell that oddly sour smell that the whole place took on as a result of having too much of it around for too long.
I trudged closer, telling myself not to get too wrapped up in my thoughts. I was my own worst enemy at the best of times, and this walk back hadn’t helped. If I was drunk, I couldn’t hear the voices in my head – the ones that told me to change things, or – worse – the ones telling me that the time to have changed things was years ago.
Truth be told, I had been expecting a sniper to take me out ever since I saw the message at the dealership. I think I’d just been thinking all this over in some vague attempt to make peace with myself before that happened.
Only, it didn’t happen.
The sun was going down, and I hadn’t encountered another soul all day.
It was so quiet that the explosion tearing the penthouse apart was deafening.
I’d been wondering around, numbed by my hangover, so the start it gave me was only second in magnitude to the searing agony that bored its way into my head by the sheer volume of the blast. It was almost as if my dehydrated and sleep-depraved brain couldn’t process it.
Worse, the charges had been set off, seemingly, to mock me – I wasn’t near enough to be thrown back by the blast, or even remotely close to being hurt. But I was more than near enough to be bludgeoned by the noise, and see that the destruction of my home – and base of operations – was total.
All I could do was stand, watch, and hope that was the cue for a bullet to finally put me out of my misery.
Again, it didn’t come.
I sat down and watched the aftermath of the blast unfold, almost in slow motion. Time was, everyone knew you didn’t attack that building, or my associates would come for you. This was a hell of a way of sending a message.
I thought who I could contact to rally around me, and take the fight to my son and the corporation.
No-one. There was no-one.
My reclusive lifestyle meant I had no friends. My dazed, hungover state meant that, as I’d soon discover, I’d left that morning with no contact details for any of my associates, and no way of contacting them if I did. And my only family was trying to kill me.
So I just sat there, watching more alcohol ignite and add to the fire in the void where my penthouse used to be.
It felt as though several hours crawled by while I tried to work out what to do next.
In time, I realised that I had nothing to lose.
So I began walking towards the city.