Now the conclusion of my short story Hostages.
The previous installments are:
Freedom and Death
I stumble toward the service entrance behind the Xiu building. With each step my coordination is returning.
You’ll feel like crap, doctor Oshiro had said. But it will pass. Human sleeves are remarkably adaptive.
It feels like I’m moving through jelly. Each movement slower than I anticipate. Each overcompensation nearly landing me on my ass. I raise my hands. The wires that now run beneath my skin are invisible. In a few days, my skin will turn red, then become inflamed as my body rejects the mesh. For now, it’s as if nothing has changed.
The door is ahead of me. Time is running out. Yori sent me a countdown timer now showing in my HUD. It’s at ten minutes and falling.
Yori had to leave to carry out Shin’s orders to equip a sniper with a rifle that shoots pliable resin. It will take about forty minutes to 3D print the rifle; twenty too many. That leaves me.
Doctor Oshiro has turned me into a walking EMP device, capable of frying all electronic equipment in a ten meter radius around me. One burst, one chance. The machine grafted the mesh to my body in minutes. Enough to fry all the computer systems inside, but unfortunately not enough to take out a bomb.
I don’t want to think about what it will do to my sleeve in the long term. Cain has made me think about who she was before the procedure. I’m not honoring her memory very well by ruining her body. And… she’s me now.
I reach the service door. A code from my pad unlocks it.
Thank you, Yori. I step into the stairwell, one floor below the lobby. I go up the stairs and tip-toe past that floor, then keep going. I am getting used to the sluggishness. Floor by floor I ascend the Xiu building all the way to the top. For the third time today, I find myself in the hallway on the fourteenth floor.
I walk across the marble tiles toward the remnants of the glass wall of the meeting room. The painting that was hit by the particle beam is on the floor. The black stain has spread across most of it and it’s smoldering on the marble. Judging by the smell, that will have to be replaced along with the painting. I pull my gaze away and walk out from behind the wall. Time is short. The countdown is at less than five minutes.
Cain whips his head around as he hears glass crumble beneath my combat boots. He raises his wraith. This is the most dangerous moment. If he shoots me out of hand…
“Officer Kujima,” he says. His tone doesn’t promise much sympathy.
With me visible on the flyer cameras outside, connection requests start flooding in. Shin. Well, he can stew in it.
“Cain,” I reply.
He looks at me, seconds slowly passing, then tilts his head. “What brings you back?”
“I know what you’re doing,” I say, stepping closer. His wraith trembles and I halt.
“A planet for my people,” he says. My countdown drops to four minutes.
I snort. “Cut the bull. You’re hacking Xiu to broadcast a message to the human communities on earth.”
He jerks involuntarily. Spot on.
“I don’t know-”
“It will kill them,” I interrupt him. “If the broadcast goes through, they will be killed. The humans might riot. Even if they don’t, the damage is done. Xiu will sterilize the entire batch.”
He shakes his head.
“Yes, they will. They will put down every human on the entire planet. They’re innocents, Cain. Afterward, Xiu will have a corporate budget meeting and determine if they will start production up again. If the sleeves are worth it.”
He spits on the ground. “As if I care.”
“You should,” I step closer. “If the numbers don’t work, or another sleeve race seems more profitable, they will terminate your race. They will bombard earth and every other community world with radiation until all humans are dead. Some humans are free, like you, but sleeves are bred sterile. You’ll die off. Then humans will be extinct.”
The wraith is trembling a lot now, but is still aimed directly at my head. Three minutes.
“They will throw off the chains and rise against you,” he says. “You cannot possibly defeat us.”
I shake my head. It makes me feel nauseous. “We can crush you like ants, and we will. It has been done before with other sleeve races. Do you really want to be the man that killed his whole race?”
I step up to him. The wraith’s barrel is less than a centimeter from my forehead. I stare into his blue eyes and I can see them harden.
“Cain, I know it hurts. You feel everyone is against you. You want to do anything to get what you want. To cheat. But this will not work.”
There is doubt in his eyes. For a moment, I have him. Then his expression turns into a sneer.
I trigger the EMP. I feel nothing, but I know the pulse kills all the computer systems in the vicinity. My interface is safe because it is inside the mesh. The invisible blast kills Cain’s plan to contact earth.
Cain notices the computer terminals in the room go dark. He screams and pulls the trigger. My hand shoots out and I grab the dead man’s switch, clamping down with everything I have. The particle beam from his wraith tears through the brain of my sleeve. My vision and hearing go blank.
But I don’t die. I cheated.
Yori said the machine could rewire my interface. I had Doctor Oshiro do just that. As my sleeve is shot in the head, my real self is safely tucked away in my sleeve’s abdominal cavity. The wiring to the brain is much longer this way, causing nausea and a perceived sluggishness to my sleeve’s responses, but it works. ‘Worked’ I should say.
I can no longer hear, or see, and I feel like I’m dreaming, but from the dark void I float in, I can still operate my hand for a short time. With all my might I clamp down.
I hope it’s enough. I wait for the dozen seconds it will take Yori’s troops to rush in, subdue Cain, and pry me out of my living sarcophagus. Then there will be inquiries. It might come out that I lied to get into the academy, cheated on my tests. I might lose my job. Or I might be promoted. Time will tell. For now I can only hold on and wait. I saved them, I hope, even Cain.
I silently mourn the woman whose body was just shot. Or perhaps Cain is right and she died long ago. Without us Kyosei she would not have lived at all. In the silent void I dream of the twenty-year old woman I would never know.