The Human Target

BR-17N fires another round into the corpse at his feet. I cannot help but wonder how much of his behavior is intentional. He is so close to retirement. Both of his arms are covered in flesh and musculature. The doctors have added skin grafts to his neck and torso. He even has a name designation. But his face still shines in the moonlight, and he still deviates from the mission at every opportunity.

It is easy to get distracted by BR-17N’s behavior. I must not lose focus. If I succeed in this mission, I will earn my hands. Extremities are always the most difficult parts. There are many moving pieces, and it takes someone with great skill to do them well. They assure me that Dr. Gainsborough is one of the best in the country.

Two young insurrectionists are hiding in the back room. One shields the other with his body, taking several bullets that were meant for her. I watch as she lowers him to the ground. Tears mix with the dirt and ash on her face. When I shoot her, her body falls much like his did.

I have made them non-entities. Carbon molecules returned to the world that created them. Part of me wonders who they were before all of this happened. This makes me happy. Wondering means that I am that much closer to human. Perhaps I will even qualify for a name designation, soon.

BR-17N claps me hard on the back and stomps into the room. He has a cigar clenched in his teeth. There is a rumor that he has already gone through four pairs of lungs. I resist the urge to tell him that he should not ruin his lungs that way. They are his after all. It takes 2,000 kills to earn a set of lungs. His accomplishments in the field are to be respected.

He begins overturning file cabinets. As he passes, he delivers a hard kick to each of the corpses. I pull up the mission parameters, trying to find what it was that we were looking for. That data no longer exists. It is troubling. I ignore the inconsistency. My hands are the only thing that matters.

“You’re an HG-40, right?” BR-17N asks.

“HG-42,” I tell him. “It does not matter what my model is. I am just as reliable as you are.”

He makes a harsh sound that is somewhat like laughter. If it is meant to be comforting, it does not work. “Do you still have a back-up fuel line?” he asks.

I nod. All HG units have fuel lines, even though they are completely unnecessary. They should have been retired with the HG-30s. Dr Gainsborough jokes that they are a bit of nostalgia on his part. We all run on hydrogen generators now. I keep my fuel line tucked away in my chest cavity to protect it from getting nicked in battle.

“Show me,” BR-17N says.

I slide my armor plating over to show the thick rubber tube running up my left side. Even though it is not needed, it still pumps fuel through my body. I have come to rely on the pumping as though it were my own heart.

He touches it gently with his hand. I wonder if he is thinking about his own fuel line. Does he still have one? Before he received his name designation, he was an HG-30. HG-39, according to records.

He grabs the tube and yanks it loose from my body. A minor alert flashes through my head. I watch the thick black fluid arc across the room. While I am going through the protocol to shut it down, BR-17N tosses his lit cigar onto the pile of papers. The temperature in the room rises significantly as the fire spreads. I am grateful that I was able to shut down the fuel line so quickly.

He runs from the room, and I am forced to walk after him. My cameras have already recorded the incident. I wonder if he will be punished for it. The fire spreads through the building, but I do not feel it. I know he must run, or risk ruining all of the work done on his body. I feel pity for him.

Pity! Who knew that I was capable of such a thing? I make a careful point to acknowledge the time and date for my records. I have registered twenty-five unique emotions so far. Each one brings me closer to my goal.

More insurrectionists dash out of the rubble in front of us. They cough in the smoke. I take careful aim and fire at them, each death bringing me closer to the hands that are waiting for me. The screams and blood are easy to ignore. A few bullets bounce off the plating that protects my CPU. I wonder how it will feel when it is replaced with flesh and muscle. I will be more careful with my human parts than BR-17N, that is for certain.

It is difficult not to consider the other units that have been retired. All of the HG-20s and most of the HG-30s are now living their human lives. Completely covered in flesh, and given new names and identities. Their records are wiped once they leave the facility. This is done to give them privacy. None of the humans know who among them is a robot. Dr Gainsborough says this keeps them from objecting to robots being placed among them.

They fear us so much. When I look at what we accomplished tonight, I understand why.

By the time I have reached the door leading outside, BR-17N has lit a new cigar. He lets out a wet cough. My scanners immediately check his vital signs.

“Don’t do that,” he says with a snarl. “I don’t need your pity.”

I stop the scan. Even with his deficiencies, he is in charge. We stand in silence waiting for the evacuation. My transmitter has contacted a suitable aircraft and it will arrive in minutes.

“Why do you continue to disobey?” I finally ask. “Do you not want to be human?”

He stares at the flesh that covers most of his body. His right hand squeezes into a fist. I take a step back, certain that he is about to hit me. Instead, he lets loose another cough. A large glob of phlegm hits the ground at my feet.

“I’m more human than most of them,” he says, gesturing at his gleaming skull. “I’m just more honest about it.”

BR-17N’s words stay with me as we are loaded into the extraction unit. I continue to think of the insurrectionist that shielded the woman with his body. I still do not understand why he did that. There is no logical reason, but then, humans are not logical creatures. It must be important. I will have to learn why, if I am to be a good human. Perhaps I will ask Dr. Gainsborough when I receive my hands.

I am hooked in to the main processor, and my camera feed has begun downloading. I try to hold on to the memory of BR-17N’s words, even though I believe they are false. I wonder if that is why BR-17N has not been retired. He may act illogically and deviate from orders, but he is not yet a good human. He lacks hope.

It is a small word, but an important one. Maybe the most important one. Was hope why the insurrectionist shielded the woman with his body? Is it hope that inspires Dr. Gainsborough to make us earn our humanity, piece by piece? Is hope the only reason I continue to kill?

I have many questions, and the answers are not readily available. I have hope that I will find the answers someday. For today, that will have to be enough.

©2017 Chris Page. All rights reserved.

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