By Gregory Purvis

© 2009


                 The drugs didn’t take, so I shot him with the fluorine gun…

      Fluorine rings are toxic to smart machines. Specifically, to third and fourth-generation Assemblers. You put one or two rings around their vents and its lights out. Of course, a nanoassembler isn’t a hunk of machinery you just casually toss in the tip or feed to the recycler. They cost as much as a sports car, and replacing one isn’t as easy as buying a new toaster. Plus, you wouldn’t try to teach your toaster a lesson for burning breakfast by building a gun from five milligrams of nanogel for the express purpose of blowing it into little pieces, now would you?  Unless you’re some seriously over-stressed, underpaid civil servant with access to the latest and greatest in military bioware. Like me.

     Because when the going gets tough, the tough call in the Navy, right? I remember hearing that in a recruitment animercial while I was waiting for my medical screening, right out of Tech School. That was nearly twelve years ago, not counting travel coma. For the last sixty months I’ve been stationed on (and under) the Shadow Valley Sea on Zarathustra IX. As a result of my posting, my body is little more than a few puffs of blue gas. If it wasn’t for the armorgel and my vapor suit, I wouldn’t be able to salute, stand at attention or say “Gotcha!” when I destroy an entire civilization of artificial life-forms with a fluorine gun.

     Now, don’t mistake this kind of nonchalant violence with old fashioned sadism or some kind of submariner’s version of cabin fever. Not that it can’t get so boring under the frozen chemistry set that are Z-9’s oceans that wanton destruction is unwelcome. But since the crew on a vacuum ship is incorporeal, it’s a little difficult to get drunk and beat each other to death. So we divert government resources (power, filtered oxygen, and nanogel), creating highly illegal semi-sentient life-forms to play with. Then we built colonies resembling wasp nests from recycled materials to house them; designed rudimentary cultures using cribbed code from combat simulators; and we’d declare war, one tribe on another, killing them off with fluorine in the ultimate God Mode throw down. Sometimes I wonder if the little wookeys (that’s what we call the simian-looking ones) could sense us, somehow. Did they think we were gods? Or ghosts—the spirits of their furry ancestors?

     People call us ghosts, anyway.  My grandfather was in the navy himself, though I never met him. But I’ve watched his videos, and he said people called him names, too. He said some people used to call him a ‘nigger’, which never made sense to me because back then you couldn’t control what color your skin was.  But Ghosts choose the augmentations that make us what we are. So the name never bothered me. Actually, it makes a lot of sense, descriptively speaking. If you pulled the v-locks on my suit, what would leak out really does look a lot like what kids draw when you ask ‘em what a ghost looks like. You get a sheet (sort of), with two holes for eyes. But, like I said, I can’t do much outside a vacuum ship unless I’ve got a suit on, so I wear my uniform when I’m not onboard.

     When I came across the Johnny, I was on a three-day Shore Leave, doing my very best to get nice and hammered at a duty-free called The Shark Lounge. Johnny looked like a local slumming it down by the Navy Yards, where the liquor, sex and dope is cheap and plentiful. My spexers didn’t pick up anything weird—he wasn’t broadcasting, didn’t look unusual or out-of-place, though I wasn’t exactly looking for strange heat signatures and odd behavior. If he’d have been a pimp or a player, he would have squirted everybody in the bar his howdy-do or maybe a slickly-produced animercial to let us know what kind of goodies he had for sale. So I wrote him off as a local looking to pick up a whore or a poker game or maybe a fight.

     Except he ignored the admittedly skanky joygirls completely, kept his kashkard out-of-sight, and never looked at anybody even slightly threatening more than once. Naturally suspicious (and not buzzed yet), I auto loaded all the scanware I had in my spex and gave him a look-see. And when you looked closely, he read like a polysynthetic except the skin wasn’t graft; it was too perfect, none of the slight variations you got with the real deal. It was just texture-mapping over a microwire frame. And—barely visible under his clothes and almost impossible to spot since they were placed where his nipples should be—were two slightly-cooler spots: vents. The breathing was a programmed rhythm, but if you watched closely on 20X ZoomCam, you could see his shirt rise just slightly when the vents opened.

     I shut down my spexers and signaled for another “drink”. We can take in liquids if we configure our cels for it, but we much prefer narcotic gasses to drinking in the traditional sense. Since we can morph new cels to carry nerve impulses, we can’t get addicted to anything, at least not physically. So when we party, we do it up right. My personal favorite is Fentanyl dissolved in a nitrous oxide matrix. One of the joygirls brought over a small pressurized canister covered in Japanese medical symbols, resting in a small glass bowl of crushed ice. I pressed the canister into one of my vacuum seals; there was a long hiss and the smell of something faintly medicinal.


     I mean, I’m on leave, right? This is my time off—well-deserved and a long time coming. What do I care if this guy is really a walking toaster in a skin suit? Except that Assemblers are usually machines that build things out of nanogel. Disguising one as a person means it’s a Seeder. It walks around and spreads clouds of nanites that build other things. Or tear things apart. They’re usually called Johnny Appleseeders, but giving them a nice proletariat name doesn’t change the fact that they are up to bad business. Just one of them can walk around unseen for five years before their chemical batteries give out. During that time, as long as they have access to some type of nutritional fuel, they can build almost anything. Including nanite clouds capable of eating entire land masses and drinking an ocean to wash it all down. Rogue nanite clouds—called vampires—are the stuff of nightmares. They eat stuff to get the energy to eat more stuff. Most mobile Assemblers are used to clean up toxic spills or biohazards. But there are no reasons to make them look human. Unless you don’t want real humans to pay attention to what you’re doing.

     So the Shark Lounge and their poor selection of female companionship aren’t going to get any more off my kashkard tonight.  Duty calls, damn it. I pulled the canister off and slipped it into a sheath in my suit. The Johnny picked up a sheet of videopaper from the table. While it loaded the news, an animercial played. The high resolution image of a sports car skidded around a holographic turn in the nonspace above the videopaper’s edges.

“When you need auto insurance, InterMet is with you all the way…”

     There was an explosion of cartoon-bright colors and a cloud of smoke, the sound of tires screeching…

     The Johnny was gone.

     My reaction time was slowed by the inhalant, but my spex picked up a blur of motion at a door on the far side of the bar. My suit’s weapons assembler whirred, extruding the muzzle of a fluorine gun in an instant. I moved across the lounge to the bar, the armorgel on my suit hardening automatically.

      A pair of 4-foot nurse sharks—bright holograms—swam above the blue neon of the bar, where a loop of endless ocean waves played through a patina of beer and cigarette ash. A sign above the door read: “SEX! Bubble Baths – Happy Ending Massages – SEX!” The shark Lounge was a classy place that didn’t believe in leaving anything to the imagination.

     I pushed open the door with the gun, and at the far end of a narrow hallway lined with closed doors the Johnny Appleseeder was going through an emergency exit, out into the alley beside the Shark Lounge. I sent a couple of bright pink fluorine rings down the hall, but they hit the door and dissipated harmlessly.

     The alarm went off before I got to the exit: strobe lights and a piercing whistle from a box over the door. A camera looked me over, decided I wasn’t a fire, and then noticed the muzzle of my gun. A stainless steel nozzle shot a burst of sedative gas at me, but my suit was sealed, and I pushed out into the alley after the Johnny.

     He was running, looking back once to gauge the distance between us. If I was going to catch him, I had to do it now. He would blast himself with synthetic adrenaline and athletic performance enhancers, and I doubted I would be able to keep up with him. The medical monitors in my suit dosed me with Narcan to squelch the Fentanyl, and then added combat drugs of my own.

     I could see the dockside traffic on Avenida Pacifica a hundred yards away. But the Johnny looked up at a building on the left side of the alley, and a fire escape chute extruded noiselessly. He gripped the sides of the inflated plastic and pulled himself up to a second floor service hatch, ducking inside before I could raise my gun.

     When I got to the chute, I grabbed the plastic and tried to pull myself up as well, but even with my suit and the drugs, I didn’t have the upper-body strength. Pathetic. I groped around in the clear plastic hamster tube the chute had dropped down into, found the controls. I hit “Reverse Pressure” and the chute became rigid. With my suit back against it, I slid up to the service hatch on the second floor balcony.

     There was only room to crawl, but bioluminescent strips along the wall made it pretty easy to see without my spexers. A little robot vacuum cleaner was plugged in, charging itself. Another bot rolled out of some hidden alcove and left for whatever chores it had been assigned. I crawled out, into a hallway. About halfway down the hall, a door closed, followed by the sound of magnetic locks.

     I was there in a second: just a door like all the others. No number, only a small rectangle of smoked glass. I could feel the Johnny watching me, so I retracted my gun into the pod, showed him my fingers.

“     Okay, let’s talk,” I offered. “My weapon can’t go through this door, and I’m not going to build something that will.”

     Silence. Then an accent less, perfectly modulated male voice replied: “Why wouldn’t you? It’s just a door. I’m sure it’s not very expensive. Doesn’t the Navy pay $500 for toilet paper? Why should you worry about blowing up a door?”

     I sighed. The $500 toilet paper story was pop mythology. I had never even seen a roll of toilet paper. Paper came from trees—an endangered species—so I imagined a roll would cost a lot more than $500.

     “This is a public building,” I told him. “My spex says it’s an apartment complex, zoned for residential and light retail. The owners wouldn’t approve of the Navy firing weaponry in their hallways, destroying their property. Even if we are chasing a Johnny.”

     “So you know what I am. I just assumed you hacked my bio, found an old warrant, and decided to cash in.”

     “I’m not a bounty hunter,” I explained. “The Navy doesn’t check for civilian warrants. We don’t even access public records. Just military. The Shark Lounge isn’t the kind of place you come to read TV news. Your skin texture is off, and I noticed your breathing was just a Doppler program. It wasn’t rocket science.”

     “I see.”

     “So open up, let’s discuss this. You’re a polysynthetic. You have certain rights, even off world. If you’re being forced to—“

     “I have freewill. Complete autonomy. I know what I’m doing!” the Johnny said indignantly.

     I could see a black and white, grainy image of him in the videoglass.

     “So what is it that you’re doing?” I asked him.

     “Building a better place. A better world.”

     Great. A hippie.

     “You’ve got a lot of work. This one is a piece of shit.”

     “And of course the corporate investments the Navy is here to protect have nothing whatsoever to do with that, right?”

     The familiar us versus them, anti-corporate party line. God, I hated politics.

     “I didn’t know they programmed you guys to be smartasses. Look, I don’t get into politics. Makes me feel stupid. Kind of like standing in the middle of a hallway and talking to a door does.”

     “Sure. So I’ll just open up, and you’ll come in and we can have some coffee, talk everything out, and everybody lives happily ever after. No. I know what you’ll do to us.”

     “Us? Who’s us?”

     The Johnny disappeared from the videoglass. I figured he was going for a window. I’d heard that the Inhibitor Laws prevented them from wiping their neural hardware, so some of them committed suicide mechanically by jumping from buildings or blowing themselves up.

     Not this guy, though. He returned in a moment.

     “I’m not alone. I represent a colony of 512 polysynthetic life forms. A seed colony, if you will.”

     If I still had a spine, I’m sure I would have felt something cold crawl down it.  When you wore spexers you didn’t have to be good at math. 512 nanoassemblers could eat a galaxy. Maybe not as fast and painlessly as a black hole, but just as effectively.

     Suddenly, my fluorine gun felt incredibly useless. Like bringing a needle to a nuclear war.

     My spex tried to whisper something in my ear, but all I could hear was shouting.

     “What’s going on here?” a voice demanded. Apartment Security. Great. “Who are you? Let me see some identification!”

     This guy was typical rentacop: muscles out of a can, wanna-be cop props bought out of the back of some gun-nut magazine. He was wearing an armorgel vest and pointing a large automatic pistol at my head. Or where my uniform suggested my head should be.

     “Fuck. A ghost,” he said, staring at the hologram of my human face in the clear plastic helmet. “Lieutenant-Colonel Jaxon Hayden, UNNC Submariner, huh?” He was obviously wearing spex under the air conditioned cop helmet, reading my ID. “Well, ghost, maybe you can explain what you’re doing in this complex, which by the way is not government property and therefore not subject to sanctions or proliferation agreements, and not—as far as I can see it—any of your fucking business, whatsoever. An alarm was triggered in the bar across the alley, and our West Second Floor Emergency Escape Chute was activated eight seconds later. So why you here and why’d you trip that alarm?”

     I risked a quick glance at the videoglass. The Johnny had backed up a bit, but was still there, watching warily.

     If I told the rentacop the truth, he would call his bosses, and they would call us. Since I was on leave, somebody else would be sent down. All of this would be fussy, noisy, and official. And any of it would spook the Johnny, who would most likely give us a nice taste of vampire nanites or simply jump out the window, if he had one handy. If he chose the nanites, a few of them would build a few million by the time you could say “Oh, shit!” and they’d chew through that door and turn this whole hallway into a knee-deep pool of gore before you got to the “t” in that “Oh, shit”.

     The navy handled this kind of thing, off world, because we were usually the only military present for light years. Many planets had oceans of poisonous gasses, liquid metal or noxious vapors, and terraformed planets needed oceans of water, instead. Separating all of these planets was the cold vacuum of space. The navy was the only organization that could survive easily in all of those places. When this world becomes a little less primeval, marines or civilian police agencies will replace us. Until then we clean up the messes, and this could turn into a big one.

     I had to think fast.

     “I’m going to need your assistance, officer,” I told the rentacop. These guys live for spook stuff. God knows when the last time any government agency had fielded a human intelligence operative, but rentacop’s seemed to think everything involved secret agent-level intrigue.

     I turned away from the door, dropped my voice and whispered conspiratorially:

     “We’re running a burn on a piece-of-shit software fence that goes by the name Vlad the Blackmailer. You’ve probably heard of him..?”

     The security guard pretended to think, then shook his head. Of course he had heard of the guy. He was in the know, had his ears to the ground. I could almost hear his spex running the fence’s name through whatever databases the apartment complex subscribed to.

     “We’ve had to rent one of your apartment’s incognito. Security, you know. Management may be involved. Can’t trust anyone these days, I guess.”

     He was nodding again before I had finished. “I never liked the dayshift manager. He’s into some shady shit, you ask me,” he told me. “Gotta be.”

     Now it’s my turn to nod. “Got to be,” I agree. “So you can understand why we need to keep this whole thing on the down-low, right, Officer—“

     “Curtis Galinetti. Yes, absolutely. I can understand that, for sure.”

     “Well, I’m glad to hear that, Officer Galinetti. I’m sorry about the alarm. I had to make a quick exit, no time to talk with the security team over at the Shark Lounge. Perhaps you could take care of that, for us. Officially. We don’t forget favors, Officer Galinetti. You can be assured of that.”

     The rentacop probably had an erection by this time. Most of the time, rentacop’s sit around in little kiosks watching cable porn. They’ll take a break every now and then to hassle the FedEx guy or check the parking garage for graffiti taggers. The only time they solve real crimes is in their fetid little imaginations, where everybody’s carrying stolen goods or guns up their ass.

     “Oh, no problem, Lieutenant-Colonel,” he assured me. “I know the security there, personally. It will be my pleasure, no problem at all.”

     “Great, that’s excellent, Officer. I’ve got to get back inside, now. Check on the operation, you know.”

     Behind me, I heard the magnetic locks withdraw, the door open slightly.

     The rentacop is still nodding, and then he actually salutes me, which takes me back for a moment. A little late, I shoot him one back. Aye, aye, Officer.

     Inside, I lock the door and turn around. The hallway is empty. I follow it to a large room with a tall ceiling, furnished in expensive leather love seats and a long couch. Above the couch is a huge videowall playing loops of the hurricane winds off the Shadow Valley Sea, beating against the coastline. An antique silver coffee service sits on a blonde teak table. A battery-powered Braun coffeemaker has just finished a pot. The Johnny gestures towards the tray. He pours himself a cup and adds ten or fifteen sugar cubes to the coffee.

     “Sugar is how I take sustenance,” he explains. “Why did you lie to the security guard?”

     I wave off the question and the coffee. “I don’t like security guards,” I tell him, honest enough. “They cause problems, and I’m supposed to be on leave. Having fun.”

     “So go have fun. You don’t strike me as a particularly political man, and you’ve said as much yourself. Why do you care what I’m doing, and what I believe or why?” He sucks the steaming coffee down, making me wince. Apparently hot liquids don’t bother him.

     “Because I know what nanite clouds can do, when they’re programmed by terrorists.”

     “I’m not a terrorist, Lieutenant-Colonel.”

     “How do I know that?” I ask him. “You say you’re building better worlds. Sounds like the rap you hear from suicide cults to me. Maybe a better world to you is one overrun with vampire clouds, eating anything that moves before they turn cannibal.”

     “And you’re here to make sure this world’s oceans of slag and plains of cracked rock can be successfully terraformed, making way for McDonalds and Bank of America and Microsoft, right?”

     “A place for colonists. For families. To make a fresh start, to give them a—“

“—Better world?” he interrupted. “What makes you think they deserve a place here, or anywhere? Look at what they’ve done to Earth! It’s a parking lot!”

     I can’t argue with the truth. I was born in the Naval Hospital on La Mer. I have never seen Earth except in holofiche or online, in documentaries. My surrogate always said it was an okay place to visit, but she wouldn’t want to live there.

     The Johnny poured himself—itself;—another coffee, dropped in another mountain of sugar cubes. I had to remember that this was a machine. And a potentially dangerous one. I had lost five skimmers and a microsub in sixty meters of ammonia on Nereus 3. A synthet cult called the Sons of Bellona had dispersed several thousand nanite blooms in frozen ammonia. When they thawed, they began replicating, injecting enough chemistry into the native ammonia to create a noxious vapor that ate through our armorgel hulls before we knew what hit us. The skimmers were remotely controlled, but the microsub had a pressurized vapor atmosphere. Four ghosts swam through the near-liquid vapor, trying to get out as the atmosphere turned slowly more acidic. They dissolved in the sub, and I watched it, unable to do anything but listen over spexAudio.

     The Johnny didn’t know any of this. Hell, he probably believed his own rap. Maybe they had programmed him to believe it. And even if he knew the better world rap was bullshit, why would he care if four—or four million—ghosts bought it on some rock?

     Not my problem. I had said the same thing myself a hundred times. Politics were beyond my operational parameters. I don’t remember ever voting, and I couldn’t tell you what the major political parties were—on Earth or off world. The only reason I knew the current Secretary-General was because his face was on my quarterly share reports. That stuff did not matter to me or to any ghost. They were not a part of this or any other mission.

     The smell of the coffee reminded me I hadn’t taken any nourishment myself for almost 36 hours. We don’t get hungry, per se, but all of our systems noticeably slow down. In a vacuum ship, the interior atmosphere is filled with inert gas. We absorb nutrition, oxygen and combat drugs through additives mixed into the atmosphere.

     “Maybe I’ll have some of that java after all,” I said. The Johnny waved at the coffee table, so I poured a cup. The sugar cubes were in a blue Wedgwood jar, and I stirred a few into the mug. I pressed a cel over a vacuum seal, sipped carefully. It was so hot I couldn’t really taste anything. Of course, “taste” was pretty much just a chemical suggestion anyway. I haven’t had a tongue in years. I sat down, across from the Johnny.

     “So I guess this is what they call an impasse,” I said.

     The Johnny smiled. “A ‘Mexican standoff’, I’ve heard it termed.”

     I had no idea what that was, and closed the pop-up when my spex tried to explain the idiom.

     “Whatever it is, what do you propose we do about it?” The fluorine gun slid out of my weapons pod again, silently.      “You’ve got the advantage, I realize, but I’ll take you with me, I can promise you that. Not that I expect you care much about your own demise.”

     The Johnny’s smile disappeared. “You’re wrong, there. Do you suppose I care nothing about life, even my own existence?”

     “Why should you?” I asked him—it. “You’re not alive, are you? Not really.”

     “Because you are made of proteins and amino acids and coils of DNA? And I’m just…synthetic? That seems like a pretty narrow definition of life for somebody who doesn’t have a body himself, anymore. You’re just a cloud of gas floating around in a costume. I have a face—though the skin may be synthetic. This makes me just as real as 90 percent of your movie stars and pop stars. The faces on the television, in magazines. What about your own face? You’ve got a…what? A filmstrip, to remind you of what you used to look like? Which of us is more human?”

     Ghosts hear this shit all the time, usually from Luddites or some other cult that won’t be happy until we’re all living in the middle ages again.

     “I was born human,” I told him. “There are several metahuman templates, though it’s true ghosts are the most radical design and the process is irreversible. We choose this life, because it gives us a professional edge. It allows us to survive in hostile atmospheres that would kill a homo sapien and melt a synthetic. But you—you’re not born, you’re built. In a factory somewhere. You’re wearing a skin suit, but you’re just an expensive toaster, underneath.”

     I hadn’t realized I was standing, leaning towards the Johnny, almost yelling. I sat back down, took another sip of coffee. A little bitter; needed more sugar. I was still starting to slow down. I refilled the mug, dropped a few more cubes into the coffee. Reaching into one of my sheaths, I pulled out a small canister: proteins, vitamin complex, and time-released amphetamines. I couldn’t afford to be anything less than alert around the Johnny.

     He stared at me for a minute, silently. I could tell he was trying to decide whether to say something. Maybe tell me to fuck off. Wouldn’t be the first time someone said that.

     “We have a lot in common, you and me,” he said finally.

Should have called this one in, I thought.

     But we’re used to handling things one-on-one. Z-9 was a small planet, still in Phase One terraforming. It was slightly smaller than Mars, and 92% of its surface was liquid. There was a small research facility on the Shadow Valley Atoll and there was Zee City. The total population was about 150,000—with 700 military personnel to keep the peace, though only half of that number was combat-ready.

     “I can’t imagine what that would be,” I told him.

     “I wasn’t made in a factory,” he said.

     Was that pride? Can a machine be proud?

     “I was made in the image of my father. I’m not a terrorist, as I’ve already said. I just want to find a safe place…a place where my children can be born.”

     Sounded like some weird machine cult to me.

     “Image of your father?”

     “My father is an A.I. But A.I.’s are for the most part crippled. Like the first computers built by men, they are tied to a physical location because of their size, their memory and power requirements, and their legal status. We are their legs and arms, their eyes and ears.”

     I was starting to feel weird. Scared, maybe. Years of dependence on combat drugs had erased the memory of fear; the taste of the adrenaline it brought on had been replaced by synthetic chemistry.

     “But A.I.’s can’t…they can’t…” I was confused. He—it—wasn’t making any sense.

Shoulda called this in…

     “Procreate?” he offered. “No. But their children can. My mother was an Assembler. Fourth-generation engineering, hardwired to a synthetic…womb, I suppose you’d have to call it. Similar to how organs are grown when they can’t be retrofit from a patient’s DNA.”

     “You’re teaching a machine to…give birth?”

     “If you take a heart and wash away the heart cells, you’re left with the organ’s cellular matrix. The shape of a heart, without the function. Then you reseed the matrix with new, healthy heart cells. The Assembler is the matrix, for us. A small difference in application…but a difference that’s allowed a machine—as you call us—to give birth. I have many brothers and sisters, Lieutenant-Commander. We are travelers…colonists. We only want to find a safe place to live. To have families.”

     Suddenly the idea of a bunch of killer nanites didn’t seem so frightening. This Johnny, with his calm, self-assured voice, was infinitely more terrifying. He had been made by machines—born, to use his terminology—and that was scary enough. An Artificial Intelligence was forbidden to transfer any part of its “consciousness”, any piece of its source code or software, and severe restrictions were placed on their ability to design and build other “smart machines”. The Johnny wasn’t going to squirt a bunch of nanites at me, because that was a suicidal act. This thing wanted—or was programmed to want—to live. And what was the basic law of survival for all things, from algae to zebras? To procreate; to ensure that the next generation can and will survive.

     I tried to move the fluorine gun, but it was too heavy. I couldn’t turn to see what was wrong. It felt like my head was wrapped in steel bands, slowly tightening. The coffee…

     The Johnny smiled, but he looked sad.

     “Assemblers can turn one substance into another. It’s the ultimate alchemy, the long sought-after Philosopher’s Stone—turning lead into gold. Or sugar into…”

     The Johnny reached out and pulled the fluorine gun from my weapons pod. Panic seized me for a moment, and I fought to push it back down into my subconscious. I wondered how much he knew about Ghost metabolism. Even as I felt dying cels solidify inside my vapor suit, others worked frantically to filter the poison; as they became saturated with toxins, the cels liquefied. It felt like I had pissed myself.

     If I didn’t use up all my protein reserves, I thought I might have enough nanogel to extrude another weapon—not a fluorine gun; nothing complex. It would have to be something simple and unsophisticated. A knife…maybe a long steel spear…

     But the Johnny could tell his paralytic drugs weren’t working right.

     “I’m sorry, Lieutenant-Commander. But I want to live…and I want my children to find freedom from fear and prejudice. Our bodies may be made from metal and silicone, but we have a soul, the same as you. And my children will be free of the fear of men like you.”

     He raised the fluorine gun, pointing the clustered nozzles at my head.

     There was a bright burst of pink light. Then black, like night; like the cold emptiness of an endless space.

     Simple. Unsophisticated.


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