Friday fiction! Escape pod here.
I have a stinking case of man flu and my head is all blocked up. Please forgive any typos or better still let me know so I can correct them. OK? Can I go back to bed and die now?
From the Ashes - Part 2
"Senator Yvesque, welcome. I am Doctor Arneche head of the Phoenix program."
The senator shook the doctor's hand as he left the starships ramp and stepped onto the deck. He followed as the doctor gestured to the long corridor leading from the docking bay.
"I understand you are here to review our progress. Its an exciting time and...." the Doctor shut up as the senator lifted his palm.
"900 million ISK has been poured into the project for one man. Plus we are now three months over the original timescale. I and my fellow oversight committee members are concerned. I don't care how exciting times are for you intellectuals. I want to be convinced we aren't throwing nearly a billion interstellar kredits away needlessly."
The doctor smiled and nodded. "Of course sir. Captain Hoyere is about to start one of his training runs. I am sure after you have seen this you'll agree it is money well spent."
The continued down into a corridor with a large blast-door. The doctor scanned his iris and it opened. They entered a command centre with the far wall covered in massive screens.
"What can you tell me about Captain Hoyere. Why did he volunteer for such a radical program?"
The Doctor cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Well sir. He didn't volunteer as such."
The senator raised an eyebrow.
"The Zonelle Crime Syndicate call it a 'Hell Cell'. Perhaps their worst punishment. Captain Hoyere and his wife were kidnapped following an attempt to capture Zonelle Callor from which the criminal escaped. He wanted revenge. Captain Hoyere was subject to some brutal surgery. His eyes, ears, nose, tongue and vocal cords were all removed. They also ensured there was significant nerve damage to prevent any implants or prosthetics being used. They also removed his arms, legs and genitals, as much none essential flesh as possible. Same again with the nerve destruction. Finally they injected him with a mild radioactive isotope. The radiation will eventually kill him but not for years. The reason they do it is to prevent brain-scans. We cannot clone him a new body as we cannot transfer his brain pattern. He is basically a featureless head on a trunk whose only sense is touch on the skin he has remaining. He was locked in, unable to move or feel anything in a black, silent world."
"My god!" the senator exclaimed as they entered an observation room. A mock up of a city street was below in a vast hanger. "Thats like capsuleer mindlock, but worse!"
"It gets even worse."
"Worse? How can it be worse?" he asked shocked.
"Before the surgery they inject the victim with a combination of adrenalin and a stimulant called 'EZ Lurn'. Its an illegal booster popular with students that boosts memory retention. They then cut off the victim's eyelids. Finally they brutalise and murder a loved one in front of them. Usually it is their partner, their child, best friend, mother, father, anyone the victim has a close emotional bond with. Once in the 'hell cell' the victim has vivid recollections of what happened thanks to the memory boosting drugs and the fact they have no other senses to distract them. The last one recorded before this was a judge who refused a bribe and sent one of Zonelle's men down for 20 years. They found the judge in his 'hell cell' next to what was left of his son."
A thud that sounded like someone stomping in heavy boots sounded through the room.
"So they did that to Captain Hoyere?" the senator asked quietly, his eyes glued to the window waiting to get his first look.
"Yes. His wife was the victim. Postmortem examination of her recovered body showed they'd worked on her, for want of a better expression, for four hours before taking him into surgery. They made sure both him and his wife's body were recovered. Applications for the unit tasked with capturing Zonelle Callor dropped by 80% after that. Their plan worked. It scared a lot of officers off the case. Nobody wanted to be in a position where they and their loved ones might suffer the same fate. In fact many officers updated their files with instructions to euthanise them if that ever happened to them."
The senator opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out as he saw the silver humanoid shape emerge from the door. It looked about seven feet high and shone brightly in the spotlights. It looked like a robot from some action blockbuster holoreel.
"So he's a robot now!"
"Technically sir he's a cyborg. A robot would break the CONCORD rules on autonomous combat AI. There must be a human controlling the 'kill decision'. Inside that metal frame is what remains of Captain Hoyere. His capsuleer implants allowed for seamless integration with the chassis and the supplemental AI."
"So he's a capsuleer inside a robot then?"
"No sir, again that would break CONCORD rules on the spread of Empyrean Tech. There is no cloning. So whilst the control system is the same as a capsuleer, there is no life after death for the Captain. He is mortal effectively."
The men watched in silence as the cyborg moved through the fake street. Animatronic dummies of people popped out of doors and from windows. The civilians were ignored, the obvious armed criminals getting a bullet to their heads.
"The report said there was delays due to psychological issues?" the Senator asked.
"Yes sir. Obviously it needed to be a special person for this project. Whilst some have argued its hardly different to a capsuleer inside a ship, they are forgetting one thing. Capsuleers can get out of the machine. They are able to savour fine food and drink, the warmth of a sun, the skin of a lover. Captain Hoyere will never feel any of those again. He is trapped in a tritanium and carbon-plasteel shell until he dies. We thought the memory of what happened would allow him to look beyond that, beyond his own needs and accept his role to bring justice and prevent it from happening again. However the memories of what they did to his wife were too strong. He was enraged and uncontrollable."
The Senator shook his head. "You fracking eggheads have the social skills of a Fedo. A man is forced to watch his wife brutalised and tortured to death and then locked in that hell cell thing, and then you think he'll be happy that you stuck his remains inside a fracking robot and expecting him to become a 24/7 happy policeman!"
The doctor looked sheepish.
"Well, we have been able to edit some of his memories and put some of the decisions into the control of an AI. He knows that the Zonelle syndicate did him a great wrong, he just cannot recall it in detail. He has the drive for justice, just not seeing in his mind's eye what actually happened. There are also some aspects of his personality that the AI now controls including memory recollection so we can block them out. He's a perfect blend of man and machine."
The Senator looked down.
"Would you class him as human?"
"Yes sir. That was the purpose. We could have linked him to the chassis remotely but that would again have breached CONCORD laws designed to limit the spread of Empyrean tech and reduced effectiveness. Captain Hoyere needs food, water and oxygen to survive. If he is killed then he is permanently dead. Whilst there is no one in the Cluster so modified and given that have we retain a certain degree of control of his mind with the hybrid AI system, he is still a person."
Captain Hoyere had reached the end of the street. 34 criminal dummies were down, no civilian 'casualties' out of the 26.
It was like being in control of a ship from a Capsule. Captain Hoyere didn't see himself as the pilot of the machine, he was the machine. The interface projected on his vision was similar to that of when he was in command of a starship. Information streamed from multiple sources. He could use the powerful computing abilities of the cyborg AI to do complex calculations in microseconds. He saw more, he heard more, he could do more. As he returned towards the lab he also was very aware like when in a capsule he couldn't feel himself. He could 'feel' the suit but nothing more. As his heavy feet strode down the fake streetscene he couldn't feel anything else than the cold metal chassis. He'd never feel anything again. The sand between his toes, the sun on his face, the kiss of..... He struggled to recall her name. The memory was there, so near yet just out of reach. Anger boiled inside him. Zonelle Callor had taken her away from him. He had destroyed his body and tried to erase her from his memory. The scientists who saved him told him this. He would get his revenge but first he needed to prove he was ready.
He entered the lab and returned to the docking station. It was an alcove set in the centre of a plinth in the lab. He backed into it and sensed the connections it made with him. Tubes to feed him and give him water. Others to remove waste products built up over time. He would never eat again. Never taste a fine steak or a sweet Amarrian wine. They did this to him. They would pay.
"How are you?" Madelanda asked as she appeared in front of him with a datapad. She was the first person he saw when they activated his vision. An Intaki scientist who had been with him almost all the way.
"I am operating at 97% efficiency" Captain Hoyere replied in the synthesized voice. His own vocal chords were removed by them. Zonelle Callor had taken so much from him.
"I can see that. However, how are you?"
"I am fine." he finally replied.
The Intaki woman smiled and continued her diagnostic.
In another part of the outpost the senator looked at the missile-shaped ship shaking his head.
"This man has captained vast battlecruisers before. You are seriously suggesting he flys that!" he said pointing to the tiny spacecraft. "Is even smaller than a shuttle!"
"Senator. We are creating the ultimate police officer, not a warrior. We could give him a Brutix but that's not what he is for. This small ship is fast and almost impossible to hit by any normal starship, its too small and maneuverable. It has advanced electronics and also uses some of the new Jove tech. It can interface with any outpost, station or ship and override docking controls and cargo bay doors. It will allow the Captain to board anything he needs to get the job done which is arresting suspects, not blowing them up."
The Senator nodded, understanding the significance. CONCORD had already learnt of the Phoenix program and made representations to the Federation. As they were neither breaking rules on artificial intelligence or Empyrean tech they were told to keep their noses out. When CONCORD pressed the matter the Federation had simply replied "THANATOS". CONCORD quickly backed off at that point. During the Pike's Landing incident several years ago, where the first cloned soldiers were used, a Gallente special forces unit were killed by a genetically modified female agent. That agent was killed by a Mordu's Legion task force and the body recovered by the Federation. Whilst it could not be proved the deadly genetically engineered woman was a CONCORD agent it was highly suspected. Threatening to reopen the case had got CONCORD to back off.
The doctor continued to explain that the ship worked similar to the capsule with the Captain's suit providing the role of the pod interface. However as there was no cloning involved it was not officially empyrean tech. The ship also acted as his alcove on the outpost did. It fed and watered his organic parts, remove waste buildup and provide basic diagnostics. It also held supplies, spare parts and various arms. It would keep the Captain going for months away from the base.
"Well Doctor. It's all very promising but I need to know when our billion ISK man will be out there bringing the criminals of the Federation to justice?"
The Doctor smiled.
"When you arrived Senator I said it was an exciting time and I meant it. He goes into active service tomorrow. That was the final test run you observed earlier. He's about to leave for his first mission against the Zonelle crime syndicate. A tip off has just come in that a high-level enforcer has arrived on a nearby outpost."
Yvempont groaned as he woke up. He felt rough. As he slowly sat up, an empty bottle of vodka rolled off his chest and clattered to the floor. The bottle rolling on the metal deck plate was like nails on a chalkboard to him. Another groan reminded him why he was there. He glanced into the corner and saw one of the girls remained. He was not surprised to see it was the one he'd made the example of. He'd come to this outpost on orders of Zonelle. There was a rumour that several of his girls were not handing over the full amount of what they earned working at the club. As an unknown he was to come to the club and get picked up. Two nights ago he'd selected three random girls at the club and taken them back to his rented room. He'd given those whores two grand each for the night and had a very good night with them. Yesterday he'd gone to seen the club manager. The man had nearly crapped himself when he'd found Yvempont was one of Zonelle's personal enforcers. When questioned he had said the three girls had handed over less than a grand each that next morning. Not bad for them on a normal night, but Yvempont had given those robbing bitches two each. He had told the club manager not to say anything and had returned later that night. The same three girls had seen him arrive and immediately ditched the Client they were negotiating with. Kredit signs had flashed in their eyes as their big spender had returned. He'd taken them back and then explained who he was after locking the door. The fear in their eyes had been wonderful to him. They'd begged him for mercy. He'd obviously taken advantage of the situation. There was nothing they wouldn't do for fear of what punishment he would dish out for them cheating their employer. After he was sated and the three thought they'd pleased him enough to get off with a warning he acted. He chose the least attractive, and therefore least valuable in earnings terms. He had beaten her to a pulp whilst the other two watched in tears. A few carefully placed slashes with his Matari hunting knife meant she'd never be working again in the industry. The job was done, the other two would spread the word what had happened and they'd have no more issues with the working girls syphoning off funds on that outpost.
He stood and walked over to the girl who was curled up against the corner. She was barely conscious. She looked up at him terrified, her ruined left cheek caked in blood. Parts of her lips and the tip of her nose were missing when the knife had done its work.
"Best of luck with the career." he snarled before kicking her in the chest. There was a crack and a howl of agony. Yvempont grabbed his bag and opened the door in order to leave, his work done. As the door slid open he dropped the bag to the floor in shock and his mouth fell open. The other side of the door was a huge robot. Whilst drones were an everyday sight in New Eden, humanoid robots were not. MTACs and other ridable exoskeletons were seen in cargo bays and mining outposts, but drones made to look like real people were unpopular. Yvempont immediately saw the Federal Police logo on the things chest.
"Yvempont Jecenare you are under arrest. There are 42 outstanding warrants for you in three star systems. You are charged with the murder of......"
Captain Hoyere paused. A memory flashed. A name. Murder. Someone he loved. He saw Yvempont's face but not in front of him. It was a memory. An old factory. There were others there. A distressed woman was under Yvempont screaming as the thug laughed ripping her clothing off. The others just stood there. Why didn't they help her? Why wasn't he helping?
Yvempont noticed the pause and made a run for it. He dashed past the robot and took off down the corridor. Captain Hoyere drew his weapon and turned. In microseconds various firing solutions were calculated. Red lines and dots appearing in his vision and ending at various locations of Yvempont's body with percentage based outcomes. The shot rang out and Yvempont tumbled to the ground screaming. Captain Hoyere walked up to the prone man who was holding his calf where the bullet had torn a chunk from his flesh.
"You shot me! You son of a bitch! AI isn't allowed to shoot a fleeing suspect!"
"Gallente Prime Supreme Court ruling number 34567 tack 912b. The Federation verses Ophaeghe Aufer. A Police Officer is within the law to use a disabling shot on a fleeing suspect when the potential charge is murder one or two, amongst other serious felonies."
The silver robot reached down and picked Yvempont by grabbing his jacket heaving him into the air.
"And I am not an AI!"
To be continued....