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.

[Saturday, 11 March 2254 | Retirement Day]

Ugh, what the fuck? I’m strapped into this damn chair again. Rikard’s behind me again. My head hurts, my chest hurts, my arms and legs hurt. My eye hurts, and it even feels like the missing one hurts. What did that Animal do to me? I look down to see if there’s any damage, and the entire fucking movement hurts.

But from the look of it, there’s no damage. Whatever these guys have done, they’ve done cleanly and removed any scarring; any trace of their handiwork. If I wasn’t so pissed, I’d be impressed: I don’t think I’ve seen work like this outside of a hospital. Hell, even the City-funded patch-up work when I’ve come out of jobs worse for wear was never near this good.

“You’re awake?” the android asks me. “That’s a relief; I’ve never been so scared in my life.”

“In your life? What life? You’re a fucking android.”

Shit, I’m a bitch.

Rikard had nothing to say to me after that. I don’t know how long we’ve been sitting here in silence since, but I’m certain it’s been hours. Suddenly, he breaks the silence. By, what, laughing?

I bite. “Okay, what’s so funny?”

“The first time we met,” he says, a chuckle in his voice. Hearing that joy makes me sad. It also makes me happy. And also angry, but mostly sad.

“What? When you scanned me, took my credits and morphed into my dead lover?”

“No, when you were hunting Rod Zwift. He was about to execute me when you burst in. His men got the upper hand and tied you up, back to back with me. Just like this!” His laughter increases.

“What? I didn’t meet you for another eighteen months!” He’s lost it. Whatever marbles this android had, he’s—it’s—lost them. But how much of my file did it retain?

“My limp, it was from a knife that was jammed into my leg that day. When we met again, I recognised you instantly. But you had no idea who I was. Must say, I was a little hurt, but reconciled it might have been because my face was caked in dried blood at the time. And I never had the heart to point out that we’d met that one time before.”

“Shit,” I say. Not out of embarrassment over failing to recognise Rikard, but out of the realisation that I really am a bitch.

“I didn’t rescue you. Broke free, made my kill, and left. For what it’s worth, I’m glad you made it out,” I say. “I’m glad you survived.”

I go to clarify that I wish it was Rikard who survived, but I can’t. Everything about this android, right down to his mannerisms, his words, his warmth, his kindness, even that limp, the damn fucking lot of it, is Rikard. My Rikard died. He may have survived for us to enjoy five decades together, but those five decades ended.

He didn’t survive.

And yet, he’s right here with me. Okay, there’s an android shell underneath, but it’s him. It’s Rikard.

“Animalz! Bazz Durkin! We have you surrounded; Hunters are stationed at your every exit!” Shit. Shit, shit, shit. “You have no explicit warrants requiring Hunter attention. You can either send out the fugitive Kex Atto, or we can come in by force! If you send them out, we will remove this stronghold from our files.”

It takes all of ten seconds for Durkin, the fucker, and two Animalz to run in.

“I’m sorry, Atto,” Durkin says.

Durkin’s a lost cause; maybe appealing to these Animalz might serve me better. “Come on, you can’t trust those Hunters. They’re—no, we’re—we’re pricks; it’s why we can do what we do. Your best bet is to fight. Otherwise, your location will be on file. If not for now, for as soon as some fucker on the Force wants to prove a point.”

“This isn’t my first rodeo; we’ll clear this place out as soon as it’s clear,” one of the Animalz tells me. “My family’s here with me, okay? I can’t have Hunters bursting in and killing them.”

I never had a family. Never had time for it, and having a Hunter for a mother would be pretty shitty for any kid I spawned.

All I ever had was Rikard.

“Okay,” I say. “Can you promise to look after Rikard for me?”

“That fucking love droid?” Durkin says.

“You have twenty seconds!” the Hunter’s voice demands. Damn it.

“If I may interject, I insist on accompanying you,” Rikard says.

“No!” I protest as the Animal cuts me free. “You stay here. Be safe.”

“I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer, Kex. Every retiree is entitled to a witness. You were there for me, and how often does one get to return such a favour?”


I don’t know what to say. I look up at Durkin.

“Shit, you’ve already cost me my entire operation, Atto,” he says. “A droid that can’t reset to anything other than a ninety year old isn’t going to rebuild my empire. Besides, call it a birthday present.”

Apparently Durkin isn’t an entire dickwad. On the Hunter’s “Ten!” he cuts Rikard free.

As the Hunter counts down, Rikard and I run to the door. This is it. Either a Hunter shoots me right here and now, or this guy shows enough mercy to buy me a few hours waiting to be escorted to the Retirer.

On “Two!” I make it to the door, and thrust it open. The lead Hunter shakes his head, before turning back to his crew.

“Sorry, boys, looks like this one’s seen the light. Load her up.”

“And me, too, please. I shall bear witness to Kex’s retirement.” Damn, you, Rikard. Not even death could prevent you from making me tear up.

“1746!” That’s me. The one thousand, seven hundred and forty-sixth retiree to be put to death today. It’s 11:48pm; shit, I came close to getting an extra day out of this. I wonder if they would have given me another cupcake with a candle? Probably not; today isn’t my birthday. Today is.

Two guards escort me to the court. I’m in shackles, which they refuse to undo: apparently this last week makes me an increased risk. Go figure.

The court is sterile. In ambiance only; after each retirement, they only bother to lazily hose the court down as they remove the body. If you haven’t had the displeasure of bearing witness to a retirement, you’re not missing much. The court is a concrete rectangle, with a single door acting as its only entry and exit point. At one end, you have the Retirer, dressed head to toe in black, including the mask covering their entire face, so you can’t even look your killer in the eye. On the opposite end, a window. Sitting on the other side of the window is Rikard. Shit, that poor android.

I’m standing here, completely naked, freezing in this cold air. Just to make sure I haven’t stashed any weapons on my person. You know, in case their invasive scans missed anything. Death is such a dignified affair.

“Kex Atto, congratulations on reaching ninety years of age. Despite the events of recent weeks, I hear you have a lot to be proud of, including a distinguished career as a Hunter.” Yeah. Living my life by taking others’ is something to be proud of. “Do you have any last words?”

I’d never considered my last words. Even after saying goodbye to Rikard, I pushed any thoughts of what I would say out of my head. Rikard’s last words were aimed at me. I’ll never forget those: “Kex Atto, you are my life. From the first time I saw you,” which I now know was me, doing what I do, which is killing, “I knew we were destined to be together. Although I am leaving you now, it is my belief that we will soon meet again. And once that time comes, we will be together forever.”

Well, shit. ‘Forever?’ It’s been less than a week.

I never considered my last words. I’ve never been one to talk from the heart, either. But, I do have some last words, and I yell them at the very top of my lungs, in the vain hope they travel through this damn City. But as much as I would like those in power to believe it’s them I’m yelling at, it isn’t.

It’s me.

“Fuck you!”


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