Shorts smartworld

The Retirement Plan

Where a Hunter for the City, Kex Atto, approaches her retirement. But in the City, circa 2254, retirement means death: you don't work to live, you live to work. After this, the City has no furthur use for you.

[Wednesday, 8 March 2254 | 3 Days Until Retirement]

Despite having my right shoulder dislocated and being knocked unconscious by an explosion, I feel like I’m on top of the world. I wake up, look to my side, and snuggle back in. As I doze, I don’t have a single care. It’s just me and Rikard.

What? Rikard?

No, that’s not right. I look behind me again, and sure enough, Rikard’s face is looking back at me, smiling. His arm is wrapped around my body, caressing me gently.

I scramble out of bed and rush across the room for my gun. As I look around at my surroundings, the room is someplace I’m not entirely familiar with, though its stylings are familiar. There are no windows, the colour scheme is garish. Shit, I think I’m in one of the Stimulation Station’s rooms.

I withdraw my weapon and aim it at Rikard. No, not Rikard. It can’t be.

“What the fuck is going on here?” I ask.

“You were in trouble, Kex. So I came to your rescue.”

“What?” The last thing I remember was being in Datom’s office. My shoulder had been dislocated, and he was demanding to know what happened with the love droid. With Rikard. No, not Rikard. This fucking android with Rikard’s face.

“I was monitoring the Force’s database.” Shit, that sounds just like something Rikard would do. He was a hacker for the City. “When I saw they had downloaded the footage from two days ago and had blocked your access to Bazz Durkin, I thought it prudent to intervene.” Shit, even its speech patterns remind me of Rikard; using this old world kind of language with too many words to try and make himself sound smarter.

“Why would you do that?”

“Because you’re my partner, Kex. I know you’re not a hacker, but I know you would use your Hunter skills to assist me if you needed to.”

He’s right. It’s right. But… “You’re not Rikard!”

The android offers a solemn smile. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I just offended it. “Then who am I?”

“‘Who?’ ‘What’ would be more appropriate. You’re a love droid; an EmoteX!”

“A what? Kex, you’re not making sense.”

“Rikard Mott died fourteen months ago. He was retired.” I fight back to hold back my tears.

The android looks at me quizzically. “I… I recall that. You tried to convince me that we could run and find freedom in the Slums. I didn’t listen; I went quietly so you could move on, so you would be able to enjoy your last year.”

“Enjoy? Fuck, Rikard, the last year without you has been hell!” I shake my head. “I mean, the last year without Rikard—my Rikard—has been hell. You—he—told me escaping would be futile, then two nights ago, you tried telling me it’s not.”

“I know, Kex. I was wrong, and for that, I truly apologise from the very bottom of my heart.”

Shaken, I don’t know what to say. This… this thing looks just like Rikard. Seeing it breaks my heart in two. And it, what, exactly? It just decided to save my life? Suddenly, that twelve thousand credits I spent on it seems like better value for money.

“It’s 7:54am,” the android tells me. “Mr. Durkin should be on site.”


“No.”

It took one minute to find Durkin, three minutes to plead my case, and one second for him to answer.

“Please,” the android wearing Rikard’s face says. “She is well-funded; I am certain she can meet your asking price.”

“Damn it, when I bought you, EmoteX-5412, I didn’t expect this kind of shit.”

Durkin flicks on a holoscreen. A news anchor sits behind their desk. “The death count from the Quadrant 2C, Chicago Precinct currently stands at one hundred and forty-seven, including hero cop Lieutenant Maxil Datom. As you may recall, a decade ago, Datom single handedly prevented an Animalz plot to shut down the sector’s Conscience Feed.”

No, Datom single-handedly murdered a group of innocent civilians, then fabricated that plot to cover his tracks. The City Feed prematurely reported the plot as fact, and, now, it’s the stuff of legend. A quarter of the Force says they wish they were as lucky, and at least another quietly wish they were as lucky. His superiors soon found out, but instead of sewing any mistrust in the Force, they soon promoted the arsehole, and marketed him as a hero.

“The prime suspect, Kex Atto, is currently missing; whereabouts unknown. She is three days from retirement, and authorities believe she is attempting to escape her fate.”

Shit. As I look at the picture they have of me, my hair looks fantastic. But couldn’t they have picked one where I wasn’t covered in blood? Who am I kidding? Of course they want me to look like a mass murderer. I guess, technically I am? But it’s always been on behalf of the City. So if it’s state-sanctioned, it’s not really murder, right?

“I had an alert yesterday that the Force protected the files on me and my establishment,” Durkin tells me. “I thought it was a good thing, given the amount of shit they have on me. But it was because of you, wasn’t it? Fuck, it’s only a matter of time until the Hunters come here looking for you.”

Durkin scrambles behind the counter and swallows a pill, before piling the stash of illegal synthetics into a bag. His body tenses, veins start popping out from his neck.

“You’re fucked,” he says. “And thanks to you, I’m fucked too, Atto.”

“I’m sorry, but Rikard… ugh, EmoteX-5412, you said? The android told me you could help me escape retirement; I thought I’d look into it. After spending way too much money the night before.”

“Whatever,” he says. “The only way to make it to another day is to fight. Are you with me?”

“What choice do I have?”

“Take this,” Durkin says, “And this.” He throws me a pill and a blaster. As I swallow the pill, the Stimulation Station’s front wall explodes. Fifteen hunters, all modded up the arse, bust in, guns blazing.

I scramble behind the counter and instinctively grab the android’s hand. As I drag it with me, I glance back. That limp. Shit, it even has Rikard’s limp! I can’t think about that now. He got me into this shit show, but damn it: I can’t bear the thought of seeing Rikard die again. Once was far more than enough. Death rattles have never rattled me, but when it’s someone you love, the sight never leaves you.

“Defences, activate!” Durkin yells as he leaps across the counter with superhuman agility. Is that because of the pill? He takes several blasts to the chest, and they’re not even slowing him down. Holy crap, that’s awesome. I feel a strength coursing through me like nothing I’ve ever known. It’s not like my old cybernetics; those always felt separate, like extensions. Weapons. But this? This is all me.

I jump over the counter and rush the nearest Hunter. Twice my size, half the age, both his arms are entirely cybernetic. He punches me in the jaw, sending me hurtling backwards. My jaw stings like a bitch, but that punch should have shattered it. Damn, this shit is good.

I return the punch, which sends the hunter spinning back. Wiping the blood trickling from his mouth, he grins, his left arm powering up. Damn it, it’s a blaster.

A flurry of fire shoots through the room from behind me, shredding the Hunter. As his head cracks against the floor, I look back: there are about fifty love droids, their limbs replaced with weapons, all of them firing at the Hunters. I shake off my shock at the illegality of those modifications and roll with it. They outnumber the Hunters two-to-one, and that’s before we get to Durkin, myself, and X-5412. Okay, the android’s useless; apparently Durkin hadn’t gotten to modding him—it—yet.

Within minutes, I have my arm wrapped around a Hunter’s neck, and twist his head until I hear his neck snap. It’s a sound I’ve always found rather satisfying, and in trying times like this, that hasn’t changed. After I hear the snap, I notice it has fallen silent and look around. The floor is littered with bodies: twenty-five human and fifty android. Durkin stands, panting like a dog, and I imagine I don’t look much different.

Rikard pokes his head up from behind the counter and rushes towards me, arms outstretched. He pulls me in for a hug, and despite my better judgement, I fall into him. Surely, it’s only a matter of time until more Hunters arrive. I might as well enjoy Rikard’s gentle touch while I can.

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