This is a short story I wrote this morning as a writing prompt. This is being published on my blog, free of charge for public enjoyment and non-commercial distribution. If you like it, please pass the link around, and be sure to credit this website and me as the source. For more details on how I handle my copyright here on this blog, please check my copyright policy.
A writing prompt
‘How did it come to this?’ mused General Charter, as he watched a torrent of false memories flood into the guard’s brain from his central storage unit, overloading and burning out the Guard’s supplemental CPUs as they struggled to reconcile the conflicting data.
‘How did I, General Richard Charter, get roped into such menial… BACKSTABBING?’
The guard passed out, drooling plasma and spittle, and Charter knew he’d survive, but only just barely. No need to compromise his mission security with the man waking up, dazed and insane from remembering three different lives at once. With proper treatment, he’d make a full recovery. Eventually.
‘It’s not as if I make a habit of being a knife in the dark. I have an army to administrate!’
The “assignment”, if it could properly be called one, was simple. Infiltrate the Bioquarich Pharmaceutical Corporation, and kill a mid-level employee, Nicholas Miller– the project overseer for some shady operation the General’s “employers” had declined to elaborate on. It wasn’t as if he’d have been free to say no, even if they had. He either killed Miller, or watched his brother die from a live feed projected remotely into his visual centers if he failed or refused. And his mysterious captors had jacked into Charter’s brain too– they could see and hear what he saw and heard. They would not hesitate to kill John if they even suspected duplicity; they had already killed Jillian, John’s wife of 12 years, at the first “no” Charter had given them– they drilled the bullet into the back of her head, military execution style with no hesitation and mechanical precision.
If he was going to be responsible for someone’s death, he’d decided he would take a life unconnected to his. Nick Miller was a nobody to Charter; he’d never even heard of the 30-something biochemist. Either a complete stranger’s life, or his brother’s. It was a cruelly simple choice for a man who’d already had enough of killing. He’d jumped at the chance for a desk job. It was a chance to get away from the blood and explosions, and yet also continue the line of service that went back to his grandfather’s grandfather.
It wasn’t fair. He’d been a perfectly happy, if somewhat overstressed, man before all this. General Richard Charter was a 30 year vet: he’d served on the frontlines in 2 wars and in the office lines for another 2. He had once been one of the best, but now he was a pencil pusher –had been for years– and remembering how to use his cybernetic body in a combat capacity was unusual for him.
His middle-aged and tightly drawn face already bore a fresh wound that was destined to be another scar atop the pile. That was how he was: scars all over. You didn’t live long enough to make general without living in a foxhole or two, and Charter had received more than his share of scars in more than his share of foxholes.
He rounded a corner, following a digital map screened straight onto his retinas that gave him as good an understanding of the complex as a man who’d worked there for 2 years. In fact, the map had been made by EXACTLY that sort of person. During his mission briefing, it had been stated that the data “came from a highly disgruntled ex-employee of Bioquarich”.
Charter immediately understood why the source might have been disgruntled: he himself already hated this place, and he’d been there less than half an hour. The lighting was dull and steely gray — everything was grey, in point of fact. The walls were harsh and made of angular arches, clearly meant to be load-bearing in case of an interior support collapse. It reminded him of a bunker. And these guards were well equipped and well trained. As unfamiliar and awkward as his technique was on this job, Charter wasn’t an amateur, and he knew experts within seconds of fighting one. And these were all experts, probably ex-military.
He’d be ex-military too, if his involvement in this were made known to practically anybody. Generals weren’t supposed to go around knocking people off in the dead of night. At best, they got permission from a higher up, and authorized a black ops team to go in and do it. He didn’t mind the thought of court-martial nearly as much as he minded the betrayal he was committing of 5 generations of family service. That thought, more than any other, nagged and gnawed at him like a serpent gnawing at the roots of the world tree in ancient stories.
He’d report it himself sometime after he’d finished. Better to own up to this than let someone else find out first. At least his captor’s didn’t seem to be able to read his thoughts. It was either that, or they didn’t particularly care what he did after– he knew nothing about their identities, after all. He had no way to expose them. Success or failure on his part, they would get away scot-free, even leaving the body of Jillian Charter behind. After all, it was damn hard to use forensic science on a scorch round: they burned, seared and melted through flesh, stripping it of rifling marks and other identifying data, with the round practically dissolving after a destructive trip through the bloodstream that left no exit wound. Organized crime and military black ops swore by them for that reason: they were a fatal shot almost anywhere on the body, and while you could tell what kind of bullet made the kill, after that obvious fact, the trail would end. They were untraceable.
But then again, so were the memory scrambles he was using to incapacitate his opposition. After all, when a person could remember several conflicting lives of information, they would never be able to precisely figure which life was real; they could only be convinced to decide on one, which Doctors could assure them was “most likely the original”. Scramble memories enough, and even the Doctors could be fooled. Cybernetic implants in every citizen allowed the immediate upload and download of data from the human brain: skills and tactics, information, history, etc. Those could all be downloaded in minutes, making a person an academic expert almost immediately at the push of a button. Mere data couldn’t convey personal experience though, and time and effort spent honing downloaded skills would still be required to become an actual expert at something. This was how Charter understood he was fighting experts: not only did they have the knowledge, they moved as if they owned that knowledge with experience.
He reached the office. “Nicholas J. Miller, BioChem” was printed prominently next to it. Charter double-checked his implants, looking for any flaws that might ruin this job. Everything was running superbly.
He scanned the door. Locked, of course. But that was hardly a deterrent with his military grade augmentations. The door was shielded, so while he could tell SOMEONE was on the other side, he could not confirm their identity.
He had no choice but to breach.
The door came off its hinges with ease as Charter slammed his fist with the force of a heavy-duty jackhammer into the side with said hinges. There was a male, mid thirties with brown hair that curled out around ear level and octagonal glasses that sat above shocked, and unaugmented, grey eyes. The man shuffled back, staring.
“Mace?! What the hell man? What are you doing?”
Charter pointed his gun at the target.
“Y-yeah? Look, Will, You know I’ve got family. Wh-what happened to you man? You just vanished two years ago, an-and here you are with a GUN?”
“Who the hell is Will Mace?”
“You’ve got me confused with someone else boy. And my brother is not dying tonight! Sorry, but you’ve got to go.”
The gun, unused until now, made a satisfying whirr as the scorch function switched on. For some reason, it felt wrong in Charter’s hands. IT felt heavy, awkward. He couldn’t aim straight. But then again, he had been off the field for a while. Still, you don’t just forget how to fire a gun, or hold it for that matter. Charter knew he was holding the gun wrong now, the way an amateur who academically knew how might hold a gun.
Like a downloader with no real world experience.
“I want answers, Miller. Who would want you dead?”
A warning flashed in Charter’s field of vision.
“CAREFUL. DO IT NOW OR YOUR BROTHER DIES.”
Charter blinked it out of his vision. This wasn’t right. They’d not even hesitated to kill Jillian on his adamant refusal back at his home. Someone like that wouldn’t hesitate now. This smelled.
“Dude, Will, what happened? What is with all that scar crap and badass cyborg stuff?”
“Sh-shut up! I’m General Richard Charter, 102nd Infantry! Not Will, not Mace, and I don’t know you! I have to save my brother!”
The gun shook in Charter’s hands.
“My god, Will, you really don’t remember anything? Crap. Look, whoever wants me dead is using you– and they killed your memories and inserted what amounts to a new person who had the ability to make it happen. Just… calm down, lower your gun, and I can explain as best I can.”
Another warning flashed.
“LAST WARNING. KILL HIM!”
Charter blinked it out of his vision, lowered his gun, and switched it off. Something was up with this.
“You’ve got 60 seconds. Impress me.”
Miller ran over and examined the extra-dermal augments on Charter’s arm, and flashed a weird illuminated device in each eye.
The warnings stopped. Charter could see clearly, though his map was also gone.
“I’ve blocked their ability to broadcast and receive remotely– you’re off their system, for now at least. I mean, until they adapt to the block. It’s a pretty basic block, unfortunately; sort of a ‘block in the box’ if you wanna get technical. Gives us about ten minutes, I’m guessing. This is pretty heavy stuff on you, definitely military grade, but the scarring on your arm indicates this was implanted relatively recently, and not by army professionals. I’m not your enemy, and you’re sure as hell not a general.”
Charter was livid.
“That’s a lot, coming from some guy! I was on the front lines in both Congo and Tibet! Worked behind the lines for Russia and Kazakhstan! Promoted to Brigadier General August 5th, 2187!”
“Blood. What does it smell like?”
“What do you mean?”
“Congo was bad, Tibet was worse. But you know that, I bet. If you were there, you’ve probably killed, and you definitely saw death on one side or both. So how does blood smell?”
Charter actually couldn’t recall. He didn’t like it, but Miller may well be right.
“I don’t know.” he conceded.
“Thought so. That’s because you’re William Mace. You worked in my department until 2 years ago. Then you just… vanished man! Nobody knew where you were. We filed all sorts of missing persons reports with the cops, but they never found you. You’re a goddamn PH.D MAN!”
“Yeah. The real you is in there somewhere, but this crap is bad. I don’t know if the Doctors can even draw you out and through the implanted garbage at this point. And guessing by the scars on the rest of you, this isn’t the first rodeo you’ve been conned into running. I’d ask you what happened, but it’s pretty obvious their programmers are good at covering their tracks, at least from your perspective. But… they had a remote link. I could see you blinking that stuff off –pretty basic gesture control, honestly. A remote link can be traced. I need to jack in and trace it, so the cops have something to go on. I promise not to screw with you; I have a really good idea of what I’m looking for.”
Charter uncovered his upload/download port on his neck, just beneath the bottom of the back of his skull. It was a shallower, less dramatic looking version of a port found on pretty much anything that ran on a computer, which these days was almost everything. Corporate enterprise had created an “internet of things”, laying a foundation for a network that could interface anything with everything else, and then well meaning but flawed politicians voted to mandate a common hardware standard to connect all such devices at a local level, which created a “port war” among rival companies that lasted almost 15 years. KTX, not really short for anything but chosen because it sounded marketable, was the resultant standard, and everything had at least one. Even people.
Miller plugged a cord into his KTX and joined it to Charter’s.
“Jesus CHRIST, MAN. They really ruined you!” he exclaimed immediately, “I can barely make heads or tails of you!”
“Is that a problem in tracking these people?”
“Nah, they left clear software signatures. They’re good, and they’re talented, but I don’t think they really counted on this. If anything, they seem like they were banking on police or guards with a “shoot first” attitude, at which point they could fry your implants and leave no trace.”
“Can we discuss this at a point where you DON’T have ten fingers in my central nervous system?”
“Oh, sorry. Sure thing.”
Having someone else noodle through your noodle is a discomforting notion even without someone actually doing it. Charter wasn’t really prepared for the sensation when Miller actually hit the stream of consciousness, which was a feeling Charter was certain would need words that hadn’t even been invented yet to properly describe. It made him sick to his stomach however, and THAT was easily understood and expressed.
“Oh quit groaning. It’s distracting.” Miller chided, “Aaaaaand I’ve got it.”
“Got what?” Charter asked.
“Enough of you to prove you were altered, and a series of what amounts to IP addresses the cops can use to track them, or at least their assets.”
“And who are “they”, might I ask?”
“Kalenkin Industries. Not a name I really know; not local, I know that much.”
“So why me?”
“You worked in this department; you knew it well, and they pretty obviously consider us a rival company. Hang on.”
Miller keyed information into a terminal.
“Cops will be here in 5 minutes. Sorry man, but you might want to just go quietly for this.”
“As long as that block holds, sure. Just one question, before I lose the ability to ask.”
Miller motioned for them to start walking.
“Did I actually have a brother, or did they just invent that?”
“You did, but he died before you vanished. I was at the funeral with you.”
“Was he a good man?”
“Not half as good as you.”
The sound of police sirens was audible as the two exited the building to wait outside.