“The Last Recall” by Mason Ian Bundschuh
If you must forget everything else, remember this: they are just manufactured product, simulacrum, not people themselves.
Peter’s leg was trying to fall asleep and it would be suicide to let it. He lifted the asher from his knee as he shifted his weight and tried to stretch in the narrow closet.
There was no real reason to hide in the closet. Recalling the unit would be just as easy from the couch. But old training was hard to break.
Besides, the end table near the couch and the mantel-place were thick with family photos. Even Peter couldn’t deny that they were unsettling. He thought it was sick the way rogue units camouflaged themselves by assimilating into the civilian world. As if they could somehow erase the manufacturer’s watermark in their synthetic DNA.
Peter shifted again and his knees protested.
He froze to the sound of locks turning. Unit number 40201 Delta-M had come home.
Home, Peter thought, is where real people go. I wonder what the real estate agent would do if he knew a Genetico product had signed the mortgage.
“… I didn’t want to buy it for him just because he was crying. Kids need–”
The male voice stopped a split-second before Peter kicked open the closet door.
He knows I’m here.
Peter took everything in at once. The middle-aged man (even with the plastic surgery and dyed hair Peter could identify him as the defective product) framed in the hallway; a woman with startlingly blue eyes for such a timid posture; and a young boy – maybe seven.
The woman and boy were surprised, the man was afraid, already knew what was coming.
“Unit 40201.” It wasn’t a question.
The simulacrum pulled his wife and her boy closer, away from Peter who stood between them and the door.
“Stand still for identification and don’t make me chase you.”
“Peter, what does he mean?”
How the hell does she know my name? Peter thought before the truth made him angry. He’s going by Peter – the recalled unit.
The real Peter pulled out the GEN scanner roughly, accidentally ripping the webbing on his belt.
The thing posing as a man just clutched his adopted family closer.
With a practiced flick Peter swiped the beam across the unit’s retina. The whole huddle recoiled from him. The humans were in shock, the simulacrum was in whatever passed for shock in its engineered psyche.
The GEN scanner beeped, a merry little sound, and Peter only glanced to make sure it was green before falling into his rote speech.
“Unit 40201, it has been determined by your actions, contrary to the Genetico warranty and guarantee of safe unit operation, that you are a defective unit and you are hereby recalled.”
“What is happening, Peter?” Her voice full of panic now.
“Helen, go to the place we talked about. Take Tanner and go.” He turned to Peter and his voice rose in indignant fearful anger. “I’m a human, Godda–”
Never let them have time to speechify.
The asher clicked and whirred; the unit that had hidden itself as a man named Peter crumpled onto the tiled entryway and rapidly charred until it collapsed into greasy ash.
The screaming didn’t bother Peter as much anymore. Especially not after he’d already recalled the unit – what’s done was done.
But you never let them plead – the sims. That was always a mistake. Peter had made it only once. Never again.
The little boy was a collateral unfortunate. The units didn’t usually ingrain themselves into human life so deep as this.
“Relax kid; he wasn’t your real dad.”
Everyone knew Genetico products were sterile from the factory.
Peter tried to do the official paperwork right then and there, but the woman was too distraught.
At least the boy is taking it well, Peter thought.
The kid just stood over the formless ash pile, saying nothing.
Peter left the processing file on a table under an amateurish painting of a rustic cabin on the Sound somewhere, and turned to leave.
“You killed my husband, you bastard!”
Nails raked down Peter’s face and he threw an elbow into the woman’s jaw. She wildly grabbed at the asher – not that it would do anything lethal to non-manufactured cells. Peter knocked her back into the hall and raised his hand to strike again, but the fight had gone out of her. Her son however drew himself up to his full height between the two of them.
“You don’t touch her.”
Peter was surprised at how much he resembled the recalled unit.
I bet that’s why it chose them. A similar genetic match – pure chance made them its target.
Peter pointed to the dossier he’d left behind. “Look, that thing wasn’t your dad – wasn’t even a person, it was a rogue Genetico unit who was using you as its cover.”
“No,” the woman sobbed.
He’s the one who dragged you into this, Peter thought angrily. These rogue devices never had enough empathy to realize the emotional damage they did to the people they hid behind.
“He went missing from a Yakima facility almost 6 years ago, see,” Peter held out the GEN scanner showing the green genetic verification match.
“This doesn’t lie, see–”
Beep – the beam tracked the woman’s retina and the display went red.
Beep – Peter flashed the beam across the boy’s eyes and display blinked, and blinked, and blinked, and blinked before turning red.
Peter hid his reaction and put the scanner back in its holster.
“If you have any questions there’s a Genetico Hotline in that brochure.”
“Oh God, oh God,” the woman was saying. The little boy just stared at Peter as he closed the door on them.
On the quiet patio Peter touched his cheek where the woman had scratched him. There was a smear of blood.
“Why didn’t you tell me he was a Sniffer? If he’d had a second more he’d’ve had a gun or something on me before I verified him.”
“It,” corrected Sal from where he stood against the filing cabinet.
Prick, thought Peter. “Yeah, it. I know. Next time the files better tell me if I’ve got an enhanced target.”
“You know they don’t always give us that kind of info,” said Gillespie, watching Sal and Peter over his feet propped on the desk. “And you know how dangerous these rogue bloodbags can be. I don’t pay you 40 a unit to have tea and polite conversation with them.”
Sal snorted and Peter hated him even more than when they’d been partners.
He was glad they didn’t need to hunt in pairs any more. Genetico lost just enough units to keep the recallers in business; it wasn’t like the wild days of last decade when that upset with Genetico’s CEO put a glut of marks on the register. Those days had been easy money. Except for dealing with Sal. Some of those old rogue units were still out there.
Now we’re down to the dregs, Peter thought. Maybe another CEO ought to go all crazy and get himself assassinated.
In the momentary silence the three men could hear the droning conversation going on in the outer office.
“I understand Mrs. Connor, but he wasn’t your husband… I know they act like people, yes I know they can do that. But they aren’t people… No you can’t file a complaint about that here. Did you call Genetico? You’re welcome to call the police, but he was a recalled unit. You know how dangerous – No, I do not appreciate your tone Mrs. Connor, you have to understand…”
Peter began to close the door but Cheyenne stuck her head in and gave him a blame-casting glare.
“Why is it that I always have to clean up your mess?” she said with one hand over the mouthpiece.
“It’s because Peter hasn’t the scruples to be tidy and discreet,” Sal said casually.
“No,” Gillespie said without inflection, “it’s because Peter gets all the hard jobs. The real moles – units that have gone so deep, and so far off radar, that only he can find them.”
Peter didn’t acknowledge his boss’s corrective praise.
Cheyenne prodded Peter in the side with her stapler. “And I’m the one getting the earful from this crazy bat you widowed.”
Gillespie dismissed her curtly and Peter finally closed the door.
“I hate it when they assimilate,” said Sal to himself.
“I think my GEN scan is busted.”
Gillespie looked up at Peter, wet, gray eyes inscrutable. “What makes you think so?”
Peter shrugged. “I did a routine scan on the others and it bugged out for a second before clearing them.”
Sal smirked in his corner like a salesman. “Bet you thought you had a whole nest.”
Gillespie took his feet off the desk and his pale hands from his ample belly. “Sal, get out of my office, will you.”
Peter didn’t move as Sal looked from one to the other with a ‘what’d I say?’ grin on his face.
When the door was closed again, Gillespie waited a minute. “I wanted to ask you about that.” He pulled down a menu on his screen and said, “15 seconds. An awfully long time to call a negative.”
“I told you, I think it’s buggy.”
Gillespie leaned back again, thought twice about putting his feet up, settling for crossing his leg. “You know the only way to tell a sim from a citizen is with those scanners. If you think it gave you a false ID on the mark, you’d better tell me.”
“The machine never lies.”
Gillespie waited a beat. “No, it doesn’t.”
Peter didn’t want to acknowledge that his boss was telling him – allowing him – to voice a doubt. But there could be no doubt. No doubt and no guilt.
“I’m going to send in the report as is. Unit Recalled. Leave the scanner with dispatch. We’ll send it back to Genetico.”
“What’ll I use until then?”
Scanners were programmed to match the user so no one would tamper with them. Fail-safes such as these kept the system error free.
Gillespie laughed a hard laugh at odds with his mild and doughy face. “What, you planning on hunting marks on your week off? Give one of the others a chance to make money, will you? And leave your asher with Cheyenne. You’re overdue for calibration.”
The wave that followed was a dismissal and Peter sidled through the corridor to avoid–
“Trying to sneak by me again?”
Cheyenne put out her arm and Peter was forced to stop.
Her face – always too expressive – bounced between hurt and humor. “You should be nicer to me; I cover your ass when disgruntled customers call.”
I am nice you. Peter shook his head. “The customers don’t complain”
Cheyenne rolled her eyes. “Right, it’s the bereaved ones who call and bitch. Today’s was a whopper. I’d say you owe me one.”
Peter pulled out his scanner. “This thing’s malfunctioning. Gillespie said to have it sent back.”
She took it, frowned and tossed it on her cluttered desk. “Did I mention you’re taking me to lunch?”
Lunch was all right. Cheyenne kept talking and Peter wondered if all the words that got crammed in her ears all day answering the phone had no other choice but to spill out in an incessant stream.
He thought better than to ask.
“So Peter, how did you get into this job?”
Peter chewed and thought of an answer besides the truth. “I don’t know.” The truth it was.
Cheyenne was expressively incredulous and not a little impatient. “Oh come on. You were in the army; I saw your file.”
“Marines, and that’s unethical.”
Cheyenne waved his stern tone away like a plume of steam.
“Oh please, I have to know your files – Gillespie is always asking me to pull stuff and give him the gist.”
Peter looked at his hands and frowned.
“So, you were in the military. Served in North Korea.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
And just like that the well of questions and chatter dried up. Peter paid; Cheyenne halfheartedly protested then left him on the curb as she went back to work and he tried to smoke in the drizzling rain.
He watched cars and ignored people’s glares at his fiery tobacco heresy. But he gave up when his hands refused to stop shaking. He was sure the files didn’t mention things like nightmares.
“Your kid’s gonna love that one. I used to beg my dad to read it to me every night.”
Peter looked at the cashier. “I don’t have children.”
Whatever she saw in his eye made the smile freeze on her face.
“Well, your nephew, or niece, or whoever. Thank you have a nice…” She said all this too hurriedly, sliding the brightly colored picture book into the bag and turning her attention to the next customer.
Peter knew who the book was for. But he couldn’t really tell this girl about his work and… (Tanner, his name was Tanner.) And he sure as hell wasn’t going to tell her about Korea. She should never have to know those things.
Peter forgot the pimple-faced cashier as soon as he stepped from the bookstore onto the city streets. All he could think was whether he’d actually do it this time. At least this present he could give to the one he’d bought it for.
The cabbie had to ask him twice before Peter told him his own address.
Chicken, he thought. Another one for your collection.
They were two blocks from his empty apartment when his phone rang. It was the office.
“What’d I forget?”
But there wasn’t really anyone on the line. Peter heard muffled sounds, as if someone pressed the phone to their shoulder.
He almost hung up when a voice, softer than he would have thought audible said, “Shhh.”
“Cheyenne?” Peter didn’t say it very loud. A shattering sensation shot up his spine clamping his teeth shut and his ears open.
The phone suddenly wasn’t muffled – the rustle of movement ceased. Cheyenne must’ve set the headset down on the desk, live. Peter heard voices. Ones he didn’t recognize, and then Gillespie’s.
“They always go home after a recall, it’s SOP. For their nerves.”
Peter would have smiled at Gillespie for thinking he needed anything for his nerves – but the sound of Gillespie’s voice made it hard for Peter to smile. His boss was nervous, unsure of himself – intimidated.
The unfamiliar voice came again; soft, hard to hear against the grainy digital compression of the connection. “He scanned two other people after the recall. Did he say where they may have gone to? Would there be any reason for him to aid them or hide them?”
There was a rustle – paper? Chairs moving? – and the Velcro sound of the phone being picked up. Again the soft whisper, this time words: “Don’t go home.” And the line went dead.
Peter instinctively turned the phone off. The cab was turning onto his street.
The narrow turn-of-the-century townhomes marched soldierly by with little to distinguish them one from another. Peter leaned back into the pleather seat and checked the assigned parking spots. #5 was not right. The accountant with bad teeth and a mistress downtown had a midlife crisis coupe, not a heavy black sedan.
Heavy cause it’s armored. All that plating makes it sit low to the ground.
Peter couldn’t see into it, and didn’t want to let himself be seen.
“Hey.” He leaned forward. “I forgot something for my wife back at the office. Just keep driving and turn left at Monroe to get back to 22nd.”
The cabbie looked up at Peter as if he’d heard much more interesting tales.
Peter faked a grin. “It’s a surprise.”
On the corner of 22nd and Tripoli, Peter told the cabbie to wait and stepped out onto the still-damp pavement.
Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote, he thought as he passed through the alleyway that ran behind his condo.
Here on the backside of his street, they didn’t bother with the façade of gentrification. Peter avoided potholed puddles and spilled garbage till he stood on the back entryway shared by three other tenants.
When he’d first moved in, this back entry led to a separate studio apartment occupying the back wall of his floor. The old tenant Mr. McKenzie still lent his name to the tarnished nameplate, only now Peter’s townhome in front was connected to the rear studio by a secret panel. It was Peter’s bolthole, and one of his many little secrets. No one had told him to be paranoid – he just always had been.
Peter listened to the hollow air of an empty stairwell for a few minutes, the city moving restlessly behind him. The lock was intact. No scratches in the brass or along the door jam. He stepped silently up the carpeted stairs, avoiding the trick seventh and eighth step, and paused before the upper door. He touched the heavy wooden spindle ready on the landing.
A quick, practiced movement and the well-oiled door opened and Peter crouched in the center of the small, secret apartment.
It was empty. The bathroom too. Peter pulled open a drawer and found his thermal locator. Handy for finding runners in the dark – especially those damned hyper-sensory mods.
The beam easily passed through the false wall and Peter’s heart ricocheted as a distinct orangey shape appeared on the screen, right where Peter’s Lazy Boy sat. Whoever was sitting in it had turned it so that it squarely faced the door.
They were waiting for him.
But who? Who is looking for me? It has to be Genetico. Did I ash the wrong guy? Did the scanner malfunction? It had to have been something they saw in the report, but what?
Maybe it was nothing. Maybe they just had some questions about the glitching scanner. Or maybe they think the unit told me something before I ashed it. But they know as well as I that you never let them speak, never let them say goodbye or try to worm their way out of it. But what could a bloodbag know that Genetico would want?
No, thought Peter with disgust, bloodbags don’t know anything. They never say anything different than ‘don’t kill me’ as if recalling a unit was anything like…
Footsteps on the stairs broke Peter’s fruitless spiral. He wouldn’t have heard them if he had not been ruminating suspiciously.
Someone was following him into the false apartment.
Peter cursed himself for leaving his asher at the office. It wouldn’t kill a real person, but it would hurt like a son of a bitch when shot point-blank. He had a gun, but it was under his bed in the main apartment.
As quickly and silently as he could, Peter sidled to the other side of the door at the top of the stairs, waiting for whoever was coming up after him. There was a thump as they found the trick step. Peter sweated out the long second before the latch gave away with a metallic twang, sending the heavy wooden spindle hurtling down the stairs into the intruder. Peter followed it. In the darkened stairwell he could see the cacophonous tangle of limbs and splintering pine rattling down to the landing. And what landing it was.
Peter didn’t want to stop to look at the mess; he had to get out of here now. But he needed a gun, and he had to know. Peter leaned over the limp body, pinning him down with one cautious knee.
Unconscious. But Peter didn’t move his knee.
One of the man’s arms was pinned underneath him at an impossible angle, and blood from a splintery gash gave the black paramilitary suit a rusty look. Pale, somewhat ethnic (Asian? Persian?) face, military haircut, compact muscles – this was no social caller. Peter took all this in as he checked for a gun.
It was the name badge that Peter couldn’t avoid. Under the crisp Arial font proclaiming him to be ‘Dustin Teuller’ was the familiar Century Gothic logo of Genetico Systems.
What in the world are they sending heavy hitters for? What did I do, or what do they think I did?
Dustin Teuller opened his eyes. Peter stumbled back, thrown off balance.
There’s no way he’s going to get up.
That was what Peter’s brain kept saying even while he watched the blood-spattered man stand.
I forgot to check him for a weapon, was the other thing that Peter’s brain kept saying as the indomitable Dustin Teuller drew a smooth pistol and raised it towards Peter.
Peter didn’t think anything more coherent than that, before his hand lashed out to deflect the arm coming up to aim. The weight of his body threw the assassin against the wall. Peter grabbed for the gun, forcing the other man back. Peter felt the man’s rubbery dead arm beating against him, the sound of bone splinters like twigs in a canvas bag. Even with the useless arm, the Genetico operative was monstrously strong.
The only sounds they made were gasping breaths. Neither of them shouted or cried out. Not even when the man’s knee drove into Peter’s side, and Peter’s open hand smashed into the other’s ear.
The gun twisted and fell. They lurched onto the steep stairs. Peter slipped – his attention, his foot – it was just enough, an elbow crashed into his temple. If it hadn’t glanced off his shoulder it would have finished him, but as it was he dropped straight down, catching himself on the first step, eyes riveted dumbly on cruel-looking boots and a silvery flash he couldn’t comprehend. It looked just like–
One of the boots kicked at his face. Peter’s hands darted out and he rolled, splinters raking his back as he pulled the other man off his feet. Peter scrambled across the foyer and his free hand went to the door latch; fumbled with it.
The guy locked me in.
He turned, gun lifted in his hand. It felt odd, too heavy.
He looked down.
All he’d be able to do with an asher was slow the zealot down and run. He could always run. The guy hadn’t been fazed by a shattered arm but Peter hoped this would be enough. Peter squeezed the trigger, aiming right at Dustin Teuller’s head.
It was more than enough.
The Genetico guard was already lunging at Peter, desperation on his Asiatic face, but now he glowed, frizzed and crumbled into a scattering pile of ash.
Peter’s mouth fell open – not even caring that the gray dust of Dustin billowed up around him.
A bloodbag. They sent a synthetic construct after him.
Peter vacillated between relief and rage. How dare they! Sending a thing after a citizen, a real human. Sims were like vacuum cleaners or microwaves – the only difference was that they were biological. But they had no rights. They weren’t even allowed to be armed with a nail file.
Peter had never really been a fan of Genetico. They paid him well to recall their wayward products, but in the end they manufactured bloodbags. An ignoble industry any way you slice it, so what kind of conduct did he expect of them?
Peter put the asher in his pocket with disgust and turned into the alley.
He wasn’t safe yet. There was still the other one in the main apartment. And who knew how many more. Peter hadn’t seen a communicator on this one, but he was a bloodbag and might have been hardwired with an internal monitor.
Peter didn’t bother to close the door behind him and the rain made mud of the ashes that had once been a man – or at least a breathing, sentient being.
In the subway Peter readjusted the asher and wished for the 30th time he had a real gun. His hands shook when he thought of filthy bloodbags in his apartment, looking through his things, being sent after him as if he were the recall.
Peter’s head hurt. What right do they have?
But his own personal grievance couldn’t keep the deeper questions at bay. What was so important about his last recall that they sent operatives after him?
He thought of everything the unit had said before he was ash. It didn’t seem like a secret code, but there was the instruction to the woman. Peter never put their parting words in his reports. The pleading, the bribing, the insults, it was always the same.
But this one had said, ‘Go to the place.’ The place. Wherever it was was the secret. A hideout for other rogue bloodbags? A vault with secrets stolen from Genetico? That sounded likely. Unit # 40201 had stolen something and they hadn’t found it at the bloodbag’s house.
They must think I have it. That the unit transmitted something to me, a file or disk, something they want back.
Peter put his cheek to the cold plastic of the subway walls.
Maybe he could call Genetico, explain that this was all a mistake. But Peter knew that it wouldn’t make a difference. They were on clean up now. It was likely that everyone back at the office had already been processed. Companies like Genetico left no loose ends. Look what they did during that whole CEO fiasco a few years back.
It was time to disappear. Find a place to hide.
‘Go to the place.’ The place, what place?
The train stopped at East 9th; a billboard depicting a wooded peninsula on the Sound urged Peter to ‘Get Away.’
It took Peter half the day to catch the ferry out to Bainbridge Island. He had plenty of time to scan the maps and look up property listings. The taxi was much quicker.
She’d owned it under her maiden name, the wife, Helen Edwards née Durham. Peter remembered it from the investigation; it never went into the report. For once Peter was glad to have remembered such a trivial detail.
A mile off the main road, wet gravel announcing his coming like a clumsy hunter in the underbrush, Peter finally caught a glimpse of the house. It was less quaint than the idealized painting, but there was no mistaking the anachronistic gabled attic windows and purpled trellis.
He didn’t bother telling the taxi to wait. As it pulled away Peter hesitated. If they were somewhere watching and waiting, what would they do if he bolted for cover? He was out in the open, exposed. Way out here in the sticks, there were plenty of people who ignored the firearm restrictions.
I should’ve had him drop me off right at the porch.
The only thing to do was go in.
Peter put his arms down, slightly out, palms facing forward, fingers splayed.
He hoped they’d notice.
Two steps up the porch and he saw the broken doorjamb. The door swung open.
I’m too late.
There was no great disarray or vandalism apparent. No furniture upended to show that someone had ransacked the place. There was just an asymmetry, like things had been shuffled about or removed.
Peter wondered if he’d find bodies. He knew he wouldn’t find answers, Genetico wasn’t that sloppy.
“You are not welcome in my house.”
Peter spun around, asher drawn, faint whine of its coil heating up.
“You know you can’t kill me with that.”
The old man standing in the kitchen doorway was familiar. Sharp worry lines marred his clear brow; he was tall even though he stooped.
“I know.” Peter didn’t relax his aim.
“I was hoping Genetico wouldn’t find this place.”
Genetico? That’s why this guy looked familiar. He was supposed to be dead. He had started all this.
“They did the same thing to my house.” Peter indicated the room; now he could see the traces of intruders more clearly. An overturned lamp, an empty hole where computer equipment had been.
For a second the older man’s face changed. Surprise? Confusion? He broke his eyes away from Peter to glance around him. “This wasn’t Genetico. Just common thieves robbing a summer home sometime during the winter.” His eyes returned to Peter. “You’re not here on behalf of Genetico then.”
“You used to be the CEO.” Peter lowered the asher a hair. “Right now I can’t think of a better person to ask why they are after me.”
“Genetico didn’t send you here, but you are still a murderer. You murdered for them and never understood why.”
“Murdered who, bloodbags? You of all people ought to know that I’m no murderer. Murder can only be done to a person – a real person, not some engineered construct.”
“What makes a person a person? Is it a definition in the law? Is it their viability, their sentience, their DNA? Can one patent a living thing?”
“I’m not here for an ethics lecture. How do I call them off?”
“You don’t. They don’t give mercy just like you never gave mercy.” The old man crossed his arms. “Can you even tell the difference without the scanner? Genetico programs them, uploads the content for the recalls. How can you be sure they are even sims? Perhaps you really came here for penance.”
Anger coursed through Peter. He jumped forward and grabbed the mocking man. “I’ll kill you right here if I have to. Genetico might make me a hero. It’s because of you all these bloodbags got loose.”
Peter heard the shallow scream and turned a split-second before a stinging pain glanced across his shoulder and down his back. He caught a glimpse of mousy brown hair, tear-smudged makeup, and a carving knife.
She was lying in wait for me.
Peter threw his elbow out, knocking her back as he raised the asher to her head.
“Stop,” the old man said with futility.
The woman staggered and bent double as Peter kept the trigger depressed. The knife clattered to the floor.
“Stop!” The man added action to his words and pushed Peter’s arm away.
Peter realized he’d lost his focus, allowed himself to be ambushed. His anger turned cold. He took the ex-CEO by the throat and whipped him hard with the cooling asher. “Why are they after me?”
The woman vomited noisily as she crawled on the cracked linoleum. She dragged out an accusation. “You murderer, you killed Peter.”
Peter ignored her and ignored the blood sheeting down his back. She got him good, but not deep. If he hadn’t turned so it glanced off his shoulder blade…
“What do they think I know that they send their goons after me?”
But the old man wasn’t looking at Peter anymore. Peter turned to follow his gaze.
It was the boy, and Peter understood. It was there in his features – it was the recalled unit’s features looking up at him while the scanner beeped and beeped in confusion.
It’s not possible.
The boy tumbled into the kitchen, putting himself between Peter and the shaking, weeping woman.
“Mom, mom, mom.”
Peter stepped back. “Genetico products are sterile.”
The former CEO of Genetico rubbed his throat and took his place at her side. “You’ve met my daughter. And grandson.”
Genetico products are assembled like machines. Their very essence is synthetic as plastic, their DNA is more micro-chip than organic.
“They can’t have kids. They aren’t made that way.”
It would be product failure – recalls pending. But worse than that, it would mean children, babies. Not mere biological constructs. Real kids like the ones who’d been barely able to carry their machine guns and aim them at Peter. Children with faces frozen in the surprise of death as they fell like dolls. Korean dolls.
Peter all of a sudden realized that he’d left the storybook for Tanner in the taxi. The childishly utopian lines etched into his mind: You are unique. You are an individual flower under the sun. The first time there was a chance to give one of his guilt offerings to its recipient and he’d forgotten it in a cab.
“You don’t understand do you?” said the old man.
Peter raised the asher. “Shut up, shut up. What did you do? You caused all this, faking your death, all the recalls afterwards.”
The old man just sighed and helped his daughter sit in a chair. “Do you have any idea how expensive it is to boot up an individual synthetic organism? Far too cost prohibitive – everyone wants to keep prices down. No one was supposed to know.”
Peter looked at the boy. There was the same shape to his eyes, same mouth.
The old man’s voice dropped. “Don’t you get it? Genetico isn’t manufacturing or even cloning their product line anymore. They’re breeding them.”
“That’s–” What? Impossible? Impractical? Unethical? “They have a patent on the synthetic DNA – they’d lose control of it.”
The old man shrugged heavy and bitter. “Who would know? They tell the world that their product is sterile by a DNA encoding, but who can disprove it?”
“I don’t believe you.”
“What about Tanner? You can’t deny that you see the proof.”
Peter had heard somewhere how much it cost to make each bloodbag. How much would they save by simply raising Genetico-stamped children? Farm-raised people.
“He’s a fluke. His father was a recall – a malfunctioning unit.”
“They labeled him a recall because he ran. Tell me, you’re a military man, do you remember your parents?”
Peter wondered if there was a vehicle around back. He’d have to force the keys from them. He picked up the long knife, flashes of pain shooting across his back.
“Peter, do you resemble your parents?”
“How’d you know my name? And don’t talk about my family.” But what the man said bothered him. He’d never been close to his parents. There was an aloofness, a disconnect that he’d never understood. They were dead now, but he hadn’t spoken to them for many years before that.
“I had to find out who it was that murdered Helen’s husband.”
“Murder? He was a product that you sold!”
“I used to think like you. But if you recall, I left Genetico under – shall we say – hostile circumstances. Do you know that Genetico got its start under a DARPA contract? The Soldier of the Future never really took off, not with unmanned aircraft and remote weapons making war into a videogame, sanitized for the masses. Have you ever wondered why you are so good at what you do?”
Peter jolted the man with a blast from his asher. “Shut up.”
Never let them speak, never let them plead or try to beg – all they do is mess with your head.
The familiar exultation coursed through Peter as the older man crumpled and grunted in pain. “You just twist words and turn things around.”
Tanner’s high boyish voice cut into Peter’s cold rage like a whip crack. On instinct, Peter turned the asher on him, thumb resetting the charge to fire again.
“Don’t!” croaked the old man, “You’ll kill him, his DNA has the Genetico watermark.”
Peter raised the asher to the ceiling. The boy stared through him, nostrils flaring in fear and childish courage.
That’s why the scanner got stuck on him, Peter thought. That’s the secret that brought Genetico down on me.
“I’m not one of them,” Peter said flatly.
The other man swayed as he stood. “Did you ever wonder why your scanners were calibrated specifically to your genetic profile?”
“I don’t believe you.”
“When Genetico sent people after you, what were they armed with?”
No, no, no, no. Peter looked at the strange asher in his hand.
“Guns for people, ashers for bloodbags.” The word dripped with scorn from his lips. “They were sent to recall you. They were your brothers.”
“Get out.” Peter stood head down. “I said, get out.”
“Somebody must tell the truth. There are more of you than you know, hidden in the civilian world.”
Peter took a step towards them and pointed the asher right in the child’s face. “Get out!”
The mother clutched at her son, screaming.
“What are you going to do?” said the man as he backed out of the narrow kitchen, pulling his daughter and grandchild with him.
Peter only answered, “I don’t believe you.”
It was quiet in the empty cabin. Peter sat at the table and listened. He almost got up when he heard the motor start, and he did stand up when their car roared away down the gravel road.
I don’t believe him.
Sure, Peter knew the rest of it was true. Genetico breeding up their inventory – farms of infants and children being indoctrinated with the docile, inhuman behavioral patterns of bloodbags. But he remembered his parents. Remembered lazy summers catching frogs down by the river, skinning his knee and watching his mother cry over it even as he forbade himself to show pain. He remembered the arguments when his father – who seemed so like a stranger – pushed him up against the wall. The old man’d always looked confused and guilty afterwards, pretending it hadn’t happened.
Peter had grown up in a real family, with a real childhood and real parents.
He was a real boy.
Blood had crusted across his back, sticking his shirt to the seat. It hurt to move to the window when he heard engines.
Helicopters. They didn’t have to be blazoned with logos like company cars for him to know. Genetico.
I wonder if they’re carrying guns or ashers.
It’s not true.
Peter picked up the asher. It was a strange model, but they all had the same controls.
I’m not one of them. It will only hurt, sting, make me nauseous.
He primed the asher and aimed it at his chest.
I don’t believe you, old man.
He thought suddenly of his first kiss. It had been disappointing and meaningless after the intense juvenile anticipation. He’d never made much of a lover.
A much better murderer.
He pressed the trigger. It burned. It burned, and then everything ended.
About the Author
Mason Ian Bundschuh was raised in Hawaii, educated in England, and now lives reluctantly in Las Vegas, where he makes a living playing with helicopters and playing in his band Atlas Takes Aim. You can find his digitized musings at MasonBundschuh.com.