Thursday, 11 April 2019

P Squared, chapter 11

(CW: bloody violence, sexual assault)

It's always the worst when the first KillDrone dies.

He's first in; gun levelled, door kicked in, lucky shot from target number one, a bullet from a pathetic little handgun slipping in the gap between the top of his collar and the bottom of his mask. P has to hold it together as control lapses and they receive memory interference; thoughts of a little girl snuggling up to sleep on his lap, a wedding day, a big house with sensations of comfort, a couple of bars of music, and then the digital vacuum that threatens to suck P in with it. P deletes the man's memories from the log. P is supposed to keep everything; allowing him a moment of privacy is all they can do for him, the only thing P can steal from his owners.

This done, the split-second is over. P's perceptions speed up again. They’re back in the room.
The lecturer is already engaged. He's being engaged with extreme prejudice, engaged all over the other side of the room, hollow-pointers spraying blood and innards and the contents of his bowels across his over-stuffed bookshelves.

The remaining drones split into pairs, advance to the second room, the third, the fourth.

“Hang on,” says Quality. “That’s not on the list.” The occupant and the student he’s supervising don’t even get the chance to draw before being cut down by bursts of fire. “That’s not on the list,” says Quality. “They weren’t supposed to whack him!”

The other two pairs of drones take rooms, murder the occupants without resistance before anyone — even P — can react. A bespectacled postgraduate student sticks her head out of a door and drops as a clean shot smashes her spectacles, explodes her eyeball and liquidises the left side of her brain, which splatters across the wall by the door in a sort of triangular pattern that P has to try consciously not to stare at. An administrative assistant in the departmental reception area, supposedly a sanctuary point, never finishes strapping on her flak jacket before a drone comes up behind her and cuts her throat.

They are sanitising the School of Business and Economics.

“What are they doing?” Quality nearly screams, his voice high-pitched like a little boy's. “None of these people are on the list!”

P, striding down the corridor behind the squad, Quality and Pubs flanking them, tries to rein in the drones, checks the stream. “It says that Symons installed an override this morning. A cleansing order.”

“She can't have. Oh God,” says Quality. “Oh, God.” He pushes past P, puts his hand to his head. Business and Economics, coming apparently to the conclusion that senior management have decided to close the School, have begun to regroup, prepare resistance. Lecturers and administrators lay down covering fire for each other, begin to retreat to a more secure vantage point.

Pubs holds back.

Quality is clutching at his hair, shifting from foot to foot. “Can’t you stop them? Oh Christ, we’re fucked already...” He stops and looks at Pubs. “It was you, wasn’t it?” He steps out into the middle of the corridor, hands forward, takes a step towards Pubs, looks like he’s about to leap on her when his left knee explodes. Pubs rushes forward and catches him before he hits the ground, drags him over into an alcove while P lays down covering fire.

“Stray bullet,” says P.

“No shit,” says Quality, between gritted teeth.

Pubs holds Quality up. “You were right, by the way.”

“What?” says Quality.

P is behind Pubs with their gun drawn. They think, give me an excuse.

“You were right,” says Pubs.

Quality is groaning with pain and clutching at his ruined leg. He slides down to the floor. “Could you please,” he says, between stertorous breaths, “do something?”

Pubs draws their combat knife. P, their attention still partly taken with trying to alter the KillDrones’ orders, only notices what Pubs is doing too late, shoots out a hand, fails to prevent Pubs thrusting the knife into Quality’s side, twisting it a couple times, digging it deep.

“I just wanted you to know, you smug bastard,” says Pubs.

Quality starts to sob, curls into a foetal position on the floor in a widening pool of his own blood.
P has their gun pointed at Pubs. “What was that for?”

“He’s next up when Symons gets the chop.” Pubs is matter-of-fact.

“I’ve been told to execute you.” P blurts it out, realises that they didn’t know it themself.

“Mm-hmm.” Pubs turns their back to P, gives Quality a kick in the side. He whimpers. “Yeah. You were told you’d tell me, too.”

P’s hand shakes. “You’re supposed to be trying to make me not want to shoot you.”

“You want to, though. Go ahead.”

The snapping firecracker sounds of gunfire echo through the hall; the constantly flowing DroneReport informs that the School’s survivors are have regrouped in a fortified area – the copy room, of course – preparing for a siege. P’s hand is shaking so much now they nearly drop the gun. They have to steady their wrist with her other hand.

“You are a danger to yourself and to others. You could destroy everything here.”

Pubs kicks Quality again. He isn’t making any noise, doesn’t move. “Huh. Looks like he’s gone. Ah well.” They look over their shoulder at P. “Sorry? Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know.”

“I have to kill you.” P repeats it, as if to convince themself.

“Well come on, then, doll. Get on with it.” Pubs turns, brushes their hand over their smooth, pale scalp, so like P’s, so like a skull, and smiles in a mock-sweet sort of a way.

P backs off, holds the gun as steady as they can, raises it with both hands so it’s aimed squarely between Pubs’ eyes. Their finger won’t listen to them. The drones have killed all but fifteen people now.

Pubs lifts their free hand and ever-so-gently pushes P’s gun down, and P can only let them. The Publications Assistant steps up close to P, and takes the gun out of P’s now-limp hand, and nuzzles their lips under P’s chin, so that P can only shiver and breathe heavily, their eyelashes heavy, their stomach fluttering. Pubs clutches at P’s groin, fingers making a hollow tapping sound as they scrabble clumsily for something to hold on to, but P cannot resist, cannot fight this person off. Something terrible has happened. Something has been changed. It’s so hard to think. So hard. Impossible. Thought freezes. Only mindless terror persists.

“I know something you don’t,” says Pubs.

An explosion rocks the building. Three KillDrones snuff out, instantly, from P’s display, three lives flash by and vanish.

Pubs looks up. “Look,” they say. “The earth’s moving.”

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