Wednesday, 10 April 2019

P Squared, chapter 10

P thinks that it is a terrible thing to be surrounded by people like this, to never have the opportunity to be completely alone and yet never to be among friends.

They sit in the main office with Quality, Pubs and Symons. Symons is drinking coffee from an enormous mug. P cradles a mug of hot, sweet tea on their lap. It doesn’t help.

They can’t get the taste out of their mouth.


No one is saying anything.

Eventually, Symons drains out her coffee, says to Quality, “Are the KillDrones coming?”

“Apparently, they’re due for nine-thirty.”

Symons sighs. “That doesn’t give us a whole lot of time to prepare. You’ve made sure the access is limited to my login alone?”

“Yeah. Only you.”

“OK.” To Pubs: “You handed over the papers correctly?” This is Symons’ third time of asking.

“Yep. They know who’s for the audit.”

“Engagement.”

“Engagement, yeah.”

“It’s vitally important that no one else is audited without being first documented as suitable,” says Symons.

“Engaged,” says Pubs.

“What?”

“Not audited. Engaged,” says Pubs.

“Look,” Symons says. Her voice has a strained quality now. “Don’t engage anyone who isn’t supposed to be engaged. Unless they offer practical support to their engaged colleagues.”

“Yes,” says Pubs, nodding, their tone making it absolutely clear that they know this very well indeed and does not appreciate being patronised.

Symons turns to Quality again: “You think the other academic staff will provide support for the others?”

“No. Projection is that they’re fragmented enough for that not to be a problem. Hell, some of them might actually help us out.” He laughs.

“That’s not permitted. You know that.”

“I was only—“ Quality shuts up, picks up his own mug of tea.

However wrong Symons is about things, P considers Quality’s assessment of Symons’ sense of humour to be terribly flawed: Symons, as far as P can tell, simply has no sense of humour regarding things that aren’t actually funny.

P might not hold their current line manager in a great deal of respect, and is well aware of her deficiencies in basic competence. But in this, at least, P recognises that Symons’ attitude is not altogether unhealthy.

“Assistant, I have given Quality the override key.” This is the only thing Symons has said to P since yesterday. “At the least evidence of insubordinate behaviour, he is instructed to lock you down. Understood?”

“Understood.”

Quality smirks.

A knock at the internal door. A woman P doesn’t know sticks her head in and says, “Drones are here.”

Symons follows the woman out into the neighbouring office, comes back in holding a clipboard. “I asked for ten,” she says to the woman.

“You’ve got seven,” says the woman. “Sign, will you?”

“All right, all right.” She signs, hands the clipboard to the woman. “Quality,” she says, “with me. Pubs, you’ll be booking out arms. Assistant, stay with Pubs.”

She walks out, Quality follows. Pubs follows P to the stationery cupboard, and when they stop, they grope P’s backside. P has no breakfast to bring up.

Pubs, Quality and P head into the open-plan area. Standing passively against the wall are seven men in breather masks, LEDs flashing on earphone devices much like P’s. They’re big, all artificially grafted muscle, carbon fibre armour plating implanted directly under their skin, making their uniforms bulge in odd ways. They’ll have been castrated, of course. Like P, these drones defecate and urinate into disposable cartridges, are as smooth and hard as dolls between their legs. P has a good idea what’s going on inside those heads. They recall what it was like being a drone, being forced on activation to think in those narrow, circular channels. Getting wiped and rewritten over and over again. Being unable to talk. It’s awful being who they are, but it used to be so much worse. Looking at the drones doesn’t offer P any comfort. They think about how yesterday ended, and again they want to be sick.

“What do you think?” says Quality.

“Not my type,” says Pubs.

“Well, yeah,” says Quality, smirking. “They come with accessories?”

Pubs checks two crates sitting on desks. Semi-automatic weapons in one, clips of ammunition. A third, smaller box, contains a pair of Android tablets, Bluetooth earpiece, a manual.

“You used these guys before?” says Quality.

“Yep. We’re limited obviously to the setup Rina sorted us out with. No tampering. But we can obviously give minor orders.” Pubs fires up a pad, clips it to her belt, puts on the earpiece. “She’s got the main permissions all stitched up. Behind password locks.”

Quality stares at Pubs for a moment. He is not smiling. “If you mess with this—“

“What?”

“I’m serious, Pubs. If you screw around with this, I will tell her about it. I like you, and I like working with you, but so help me, this is not something we can screw up and I will not cover up for you on this.”

“OK.”

P wants to tell Quality he is an idiot, that he will not come back today. They don’t.

It’s not their place.

Quality gives P a neural relay, which they plugs into their skull. P has the option of seeing what the KillDrones are seeing, editing what they’re thinking, recording their reactions and performance. P is a black box recorder; they’re expensive assets, and if one goes down, it’s important to know why.

“Are we ready?” says Quality, attaching a couple of extra clips to the webbing on his jacket, making sure his tie is tucked in.

“Yep,” says Pubs. Pubs signals the KillDrones. They snap to, come forward for armament, one by one.

P, handing out guns, watching them leave one by one, wonders if, when it all goes south, they will have a clear shot, and if they will take it.

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