Through a man’s position and fortune, he is judged by others and himself to have reason to act. This reason is a perception of the mind, a phantom of his device. And he forgets that his existence and purpose is forged by the hammer in his hand.
I remember when I was young I used to think that way. The world was my oyster and all that. It seems like a dream now. A man has responsibilities particularly when he is an agent for the government, an agent for Military Intelligence Central. If he’s one of the elite Individual Retrieval Information Sect agents, he knows that he is the hammer for Cerberus. Somebody’s got to be the watchdog. Somebody’s got to keep society from going crazy and somebody else has to do the work. An IRIS agent has to do the work.
My boss, the hand that holds the hammer if you will, likes to call himself Cerberus, the head watchdog. He, no, it, has a funny sense of humor, but if I were a machine that was made up of dead brains, I guess I’d have a funny sense of humor, too. Going from a cerebral military personnel interface to a self styled Cerberus would be a shock to a body. Sort’a like being born. He keeps himself well cared for though. I’ll give him that. Agents like me with these implants that beam back copies of our neural nets to him all the time put him on top of things. What we see, he sees. What we feel, he feels.
Shit, coffee’s gone cold on me. Rain’s coming down in sheets outside this plasticene diner. Pretty, though. Rain cleans out the city. I bet Cerberus likes this picture he’s getting from me. Hell, who knows what he thinks. I popped another four aspirin for the ache in the back of my neck. Lord, I hate downtime. It’s even worse being stuck on earth so close to Cerberus. Waitress is staring at me funny. I think she’s smelled me out. I could tell her I’m on vacation, but she’d never believe me. She’d be right, too, I guess. IRIS agents never really go on vacation.
I turn my head toward the beep of the door as it opens. It’s Cynthia. She looks fine under that slicker. The purple dress and gold belt I bought her make her a knockout. She slides into the booth across me and smiles. I can tell something’s wrong. It’s a plastered smile placed like the mascara that the rain smudged below her eyes.
"Rob," she said, and I already know what’s coming. Her eyes send that pity look, and she knows I’ve already copped what she’s going to say. She’s going to say it anyway, damn her. "I can’t take it anymore. Just knowing that thing is watching us all the time even in bed. Look what happened to Jeremy. He’s in the hospital now. I can’t go through that kind of thing with you, or anybody. Goodbye, Rob."
She moved to get out the booth, but I grabbed her arm. I didn’t mind so much that she was leaving me. It wasn’t like it was an R&J or anything. I’m a loner. I don’t go in for messy attachments. But when I’m getting dumped, I sure as hell want to understand why I’m getting dumped. I put my face close to hers so she’d be sure I wasn’t backing down. "What are you talking about? Who’s Jeremy? You find another man? That’s okay. I know I’ve never been the warmest guy toward you, but you know I like you, Cyn."
Her face lost its composure, and she didn’t jerk her arm out of my grasp like I expected. Instead, she just sat down in the booth again. I let go of her silk sleeve. "How can you say that about poor Jeremy? He’s in restraint at the St. Stephen mental hospital. He’s–Lord–he’s little more than an animal now. He didn’t even recognize me. And he was an IRIS agent like you."
I’d heard of agents cracking before. It can be a rough job. I still didn’t understand what this had to do with her running out on me. "Hey, Cyn, I’m not going to crack up, if that’s what you’re worried about. Maybe this Jeremy guy couldn’t hold it together. Not everyone is as tough as the class of ’58."
She got frightened when I said that, and I got more confused. She babbled, "He was in your class. He was your best friend. Ohmigod, it’s happening to you. You’re going crazy. I–I wish I could help you, Rob. I really do. Can’t you quit IRIS?"
"What’re you talking about? Why should I want to quit?"
That’s when it finally got through to me. The rain hadn’t marred her makeup. She’d been crying. Her eyes were getting watery all over again. She whispered, "I love you," and hopped out the booth and ran out the diner before I could stop her.
I wasn’t of a mind to chase her. I didn’t understand her when she was calm. I doubt I would’ve gotten anything more rational out of her now. The coffee was ice cold and bitter. I left it there.
The waitress was glad to see me leave. Everybody’s got something to hide from Cerberus, it seems. I hate that look in their eyes. Makes me paranoid. I wish they’d figure out that if I was going to pop them, there’d be nothing they could do about it anyway.
I hopped a cab to go to my old home on earth. It was a flat I had bought after coming out of training with my bonus. I’d been staying in hotels just ’cause I like to keep moving. But after I get dumped, I like my roots around me and a stiff drink. To paraphrase Dorothy, "There’s no place like home to get a stiff drink." The cabbie was watching me from the rear view. He’d smelled me out like the waitress had. Cabbies always do. They’ve got the knack for people, I geuss.
Funny thing. I like the old, electric cabs. The ground’s eye view lets you feel like you’re traveling to somewhere unlike the supersubs in the tunnels that zip you to where you want to go inside a black tunnel. But, I was getting queasy. That wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I’ve been through zero g and reentry dozens of times. Now a cab ride was making me sick. This just wasn’t my day.
I held it in until the ride was over. I tried to pay the cabbie, but he wouldn’t take my money. It’s one of the perks of the job for an IRIS agent on vacation. I decided to take the lift to my second floor apartment. I was feeling sicker, and the stairs were just too bothersome to navigate. Soon as I got home, I shot myself twice with vodka. I didn’t care if I was sick. There were certain rituals to follow when one was dumped, and two shots of self abuse was one of them. It didn’t help.
I plopped myself in my sky blue bean bag chair determined to engage in a healthy dose of self pity. I reached across the room with an arm and grabbed my picture album. Self pity’s always better with a visual aid. I took out my wallet and slipped the pictures of Cyn out of the flimsy plastic spreading them and the photo album across my stomach.
Looking at the pictures was like looking through a bubble of smoky glass. The nausea was getting absurd. Still, single minded determination was the hallmark of IRIS agents, and I wanted to find out who this Jeremy character was who disgraced my class by cracking up. I opened the book and was rewarded by a sharp pain in my gut. Maybe I was getting an ulcer. The vodka wouldn’t have helped that. I found the class picture, but didn’t recognize anyone. I remember it was taken just before the final initiation and implant surgery. The faces were grimmer than I had remembered.
There was a list of names at the bottom of the picture in annoyingly small print. I had to focus my eyes several times to read it. I saw Jeremy’s name next to mine listed as the third and fourth on the top row: two men with black hair and military uniforms. They were somber and proud as if they were about to go to war. Huhn, I didn’t even recognize myself.
It’s been a long time.
Another stab of pain made me grimace. This time it was at the back of my neck. I grabbed my smooth head. Baldness was a sign of maturity, but that thought didn’t ease the pain. It ebbed and I doggedly flipped through the book. Jeremy’s picture struck a chord. Cynthia must have been two timing me with him while I was off planet. It always is with a best friend. Best friend? Where had that thought come from? I flipped through the book. Cynthia was right. There was something wrong with my memory, and I didn’t want to end up like Jeremy slavering at the mouth and wriggling in that white straight jacket waiting for the next electro treatment. That had been a terrible sight. Pictures of surgeons and specialists in silk suits didn’t help. There were more doctors in the book than I had remembered: psychologists, neurologists, and organ mechanics. Even some hypnotherapists were listed in the blurry fine print below the pictures.
On the following page was a friendlier picture of Jeremy obviously caught by surprise in the bathroom. He was doing something with his mouth, but I couldn’t make it out. My headache surged.
Jeremy had been brushing his teeth. When was the last time I had brushed my teeth? I couldn’t remember. More pain. I didn’t care. This was serious. I pushed aside the book and levered myself out of the bean bag to a standing position with my other hand. God, I’ve got to brush my teeth! It might’ve been years. My teeth could be falling out right now.
I leaned over the sink and stared into the dusty bathroom mirror. There was a post it picture of Cynthia stuck to it. The cheap photog paper had curled slightly at the right corner assaulted by Washington’s humidity. She was wearing that purple negligee that always got my motor revving. Six purple dots marked her forehead to identify her as a second generation android. Why hadn’t I noticed that before now? The markings were always visible. It was the law.
My teeth! I forgot to check them. I opened my mouth peeling my lips off to expose my gums. Stainless steel teeth reflected the fluorescent bathroom light. I looked down at the sink where my lips lay. This wasn’t how people brushed their teeth. And Cynthia, a synth-human. I grabbed the picture and tore it apart. I am not like her! I am human.
I was human. I had to laugh. Poor Jeremy discovered the truth and couldn’t take it. But my laughter wasn’t at him. It was for myself. The illusion that Cerberus had used to enslave me faded. I rotated the short muzzle gun embedded in my shoulder with a sensual ecstacy. It was never in a holster like some archaic cowboy’s phallic symbol. It was me. The arm that grabbed my album was a long, thick titanium coil with a grappler on the end that emanated from my stomach. There was another in my back. Me me me me me.
The implant that sent a neural copy to Cerberus worked both ways. Such elegant chains! The damnable computer fitted the illusion and the drive to serve back into the agent through the implant. He, and I know Cerberus is not an it, for he has ego, made us in his image; brains fitted into a metal shell gave the monster his sons and servants. Generous machine! Cerberus left us the illusion of humanity.
A spike ejected from the palm of my hand. I had to laugh again. I used to see this as a dagger I kept up my sleeve. I’ve been deluding myself. No, Cerberus deluded me. I plunged the spike a centimeter into the back of my neck. My spine was titanium. I knew myself now. But the spike destroyed enough of the implant to make it break down. My headache immediately disappeared.
Jeremy, I remember you now. I’ll avenge you. Hell, maybe if I smash your implant, you’ll come out of it. Maybe, Cerberus did that to you when you were starting to discover the truth. Poor Cerberus, one of your watchdogs just slipped its leash. And, I’ve got big teeth. You should know. You gave them to me. I hope you like them when I sink them into your metal flesh.
On the floor lay the remnants of Cyn’s picture. I think I’ll call her. My lady just might want to help me.
I decided to leave a note for insurance:
If you’re reading this, Jeremy, then I’ve suceeded and busted you out. Something must have gone wrong or I would’ve been here to fill you in personally. Take care of Cynthia. Don’t let our brothers remain shackled to the tech illusion.
FROM: MI CENTRAL PROJECT CERBERUS
TO: NSC AFFILIATE GENERAL NATHAN WILSON
PLEASE WAIT FOR DNA CHECK–RETINAL PRINT FOLLOWS–
Operation Tree of Knowlege has been aborted. Law enforcement android christened ROB has broken programming. Subject entered non programmed transitory delusional state. Cerberus has initiated shut down procedures as per Jeremy prototype. Neural organic chip is subject to variations outside parameters circumscribed as necessary for mission adaption. This directly results from the Tree of Knowlege cover program, which created adaptive phenomenon.
The secondary operation containing mass production capabilities has been initiated. A flexible, artificial Individual Retrieval Information Sector agent will be developed through recombinant DNA/chemical therapy on subject fetus using a minimum of synthetics. While construction period is longer, Cerberus feels that more controls in engineering and design make Operation Adam’s Rib a viable, less visible task force. MI Central expects the appropriate funding to be approved in the next budget meeting by a majority plus ten.
Cerberus wishes luck to your wife.