Short Story: Man or Mech (Free Excerpt)

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mechBy Rebecca McFarland Kyle

 

Why did they write those endings where the bad guy got away? I supposed Enforcers couldn’t win all the time. The latest mystery download hit me upside the head like a 300-pound ‘Roid junkie. I rubbed the plate proximal to the location of my former temple and swore. Books like this only made me want to be more of a titanium-plated badass. Long as my human parts stayed safe in the can, I was good, right?

I was a Mech Enforcer. Humans saw me as a multi-million-dollar tin man. Control saw me as a necessity, since the streets have gotten so mean that living armored men just got cooked in their suits. I was meat in a matte gray titanium shell. I had memories of being a son, a student, a soldier.

The chronometer on my cruiser’s dashboard pinged, commencing countdown for my last few seconds of break time. I pushed the onboard delivery button for coffee and readied myself for the next call. No, my cybernetic body didn’t need coffee anymore, but my human addictions still felt good to my brain. Habit doesn’t die when our throats and bellies do. Control fed our heads with the things we used to love in machine-nutritive form. No, it wasn’t real coffee. The bean fields dried up years ago. My cup’s contents were probably some kind of lubricant. You think about it, it was just like coffee back when I was human, right? A cup of Joe in the morning and you’ve got to go visit the head. That’s one thing about being human I didn’t miss.

Break over in three…two…

I hit the streets, gulping down my coffee as auto-drive inserted my black-and-white cruiser into a mix of the armored Elite vehicles and the cobbled-together trucks and transit buses that constituted Employee traffic.

Truth, I was more hooked on mysteries than coffee. I suppose the Elites had a stash of coffee, chocolate, and all the good stuff I can barely remember tasting, but I didn’t spend a lot of time wishing for things I couldn’t have—and could only vaguely remember the taste and texture of. Rare things were the reward for having the brainpower to keep what’s left of our society running.

Hey, don’t go thinking I was selfless. My rewards were downloads.

I learned to love downloads from my Grandma. Back then, they were called books, and they had a real physical presence: sheets of paper, printed with ink, and bound in leather. Sometimes they had colorful covers, too. Thinking about them made my fingers itch. Yes, I still had fingers—wonderfully articulated metal hands that can do anything a human hand could do – except they don’t melt until over 1660 °C, thanks to a new brand of high-test titanium.

Before she terminated, Grandma read to me from the small stash of books she managed to hoard. I remembered the smell of the leather bindings and the soft whisper as pages turned beneath her fingers. Stories unfolded before your eyes word by word in bold black letters, unlike the seconds-long burst of the whole event from a download.

“Savor,” Grandma said. I knew the meaning, but there wasn’t time anymore. Our city was in ruins from the hurricane. Maps were useless since the coastline was gone. Almost daily, the already unstable fracked ground erupted with fiery geysers spewing poison gasses into the environment as the cowed earth shook and trembled.

Once upon a time when I was just a little boy, Grandma told me stories. That was before the storms and quakes; before my enlistment, then my injury, which left little of me but my brain usable—then the suit and training, and the job as an Enforcer.

After I innocently told the Training Authorities about her, Grandma was deemed a Bad Influence, and our contact was restricted. And I was trained as an Enforcement Officer. Years later, I learned she volunteered for termination. Old folks did that—just couldn’t cope with today’s fast-paced world. Least that’s what the Training Authorities told me. I was pretty sure Grandma volunteered because she believed we needed all our valuable resources for young people who had a life ahead of them. She hadn’t been the kind to quit, but she would sacrifice for the greater good.

A chime sounded in my head as the cruiser’s siren and lights blinked on. Report coming in. My cruiser sped up, taking me toward the destination.

I loved reports. Running updates made them unfold like the old stories. No, I didn’t tell anyone this—not even when I did my stint at Training the new Mechs. Some things you kept in your head just for yourself. Thoughts were personal—and they’re dangerous if misinterpreted. Humans were not comfortable with the idea that we Mechs had thoughts, though that’s why we were chosen for our jobs. They’d be even more uncomfortable if they knew we had hopes, dreams… and nightmares.

Images appeared downloaded straight from Control to my human brain and my cruiser’s computer. A burly man, looking to be a ‘Roid user, struck a small woman who had a belly full of child. Control automatically increased alert status. The cruiser engine revved up before he could strike another blow. I was now on the upper airway reserved for emergencies and Elites. Elite cars parted, and the lights went red for them.

An Elite in a gleaming black armored BMW M-300 gunned it. The cruiser’s camera caught the ID. The “Ticket” button lit up and I added “deliberate action” to the charge. He could still get off, but it’d be harder with evidence that a fetus was in danger. That was one of the rare times we got a solid Green.

Feticide was instant termination for the offender. I remembered times in a schoolyard full of children, even twins and triplets, to play with. We didn’t make so many babies anymore. Citizens speculated as to the reasons why, but the Powers That Be weren’t telling. Grandma used to say the food, air, and water weren’t so good anymore. That’s why the Powers turned people like me into Mechs. It was lot of investment for the suits, but we had the brainpower to work, and they needed folks to keep order more than ever.

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fs-219-v3-600tWant to read more?

Purchase the August 2014 issue of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination (ebook edition) for 1.99.

 

One Comment

  1. Excellent dystopia, Becky.

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