Monday, 8 April 2019

P Squared, chapter 8

(Violent scenes and language may upset. You know the score.)
“What’s going on here, then?” says Pubs.
A Cleanup drone — his overalls spattered with blood around the ankles — is busy disposing of bodies. P recognises the Faculty Officer, Carin, Genn, a couple of others, stacked into the cart. One person they do not recognise, a man, lies on the ground next to Quality, who stands, staring at his shoes, arms folded, breathing deeply.

Quality has blood on his tie and down his powder-blue shirt; it’s evidently not his own. “THR came on a recruitment raid,” he says. “Turns out that one of the people Klaire and the Assistant whacked survived long enough to get an upload. And the cuts came in. We did pretty well for ourselves, considering.” He kicks the nearby corpse in the head. “Fucker.”

“Anyone get taken?” says P.

“Just Klaire.”

 “Ah, well,” says Pubs. “Carin got splatted?”

“Yeah, it was hilarious. On her own—“

“Excuse me,” says P. “Klaire?”

“What about her?” says Quality.

“Where is she?” says Pubs.

“Oh, probably getting droned right now.” He turns back to Pubs, “No, she was like, ‘You’ll never take me, fuckers!’ and they were like, ‘Why the fuck are we going to take you?’ and she went for them with that chain thing she’s always playing with, and she, you’re never going to believe this, she tripped, right, and it went off right in her—“

“Where is that?” says P.

“Just here,” says Quality. He points to the corner of a desk with something grey and bloody spattered across it.

“No. Where’s Klaire?”

“What about her?”

“Where is she now?”

“Duh. THR. What’s your problem?” says Pubs.

P unholsters their SMG, starts checking it. Symons, who has been at her desk, looks up. “I can’t let you attempt to go after her, Assistant.”

“She wasn’t—“ Pubs says. “You weren’t, were you? Why would you do that?”

P pulls a vial from their pocket, charges their glove with it, walks to the stationery cupboard.

“If you persist I’ll have to enable the override,” says Symons.

P starts booking out some ammunition.

Symons says, “Right,” types, clicks her mouse a few times. “Hang on,” she says.

P checks the ammunition, reloads the magazines, holsters.

Symons knits her eyebrows. “Someone’s been into the Assistant,” says Symons. “Have either of you been mucking about with the Assistant’s permissions?”

Quality looks at Pubs. Pubs says, “What?”

“If you persist, we’ll have to resort to force, Assistant,” says Symons.

P stands at the door, turns around, hand hovering over the SMG on their hip. “OK, then.”

No one moves. P shrugs.

“This isn’t a reasonable use of resources,” says Symons.

P ignores her, walks out the door. Even if Pubs admits to having tampered with them — and P is certain now, after that, that it is the Publications Assistant who has tampered with them — by the time they get in, they’ll be out of Quality Office range before they can work the override. P does not like Pubs one bit, but feels that they have an intuitive understanding of this person. They are certain that Pubs will not own up, predict to themself that Pubs will brazen it out and try to convince Symons that she changed her password and forgot or something. And P predicts that if Quality knows — P suspects that he knows exactly what Pubs has been doing to them — he will not turn Pubs in.
P decides that they do not care what HR will do to them. It cannot be worse than the half-remembered sufferings of nearly two decades, the mandatory surgeries, the abuses of their mind; the broken promises, and the removal, over and over again, of their self-determination, their agency, their identity, their name. Pubs has, by mistake, given P the opportunity to do something stupid, and violent, and honest.

They are running now, through the mouldy, labyrinthine corridors of the University’s admin unit, vaulting flights of steps, laughing as they leap the banister of the huge central staircase, somersaults for no other reason than to show off to themself, lands perfectly, arms outstretched like a gymnast. They have no illusions that they are entirely doing this for Klaire. P is doing this because they know for a fact that once, at a time before they can remember clearly, the person of whom they are a degraded seventh-generation photocopy was magnificent.

P wants to be magnificent again.

An Information Services representative, a bespectacled technician in a short-sleeved shirt, sees P coming across the main hall, panics, opens fire with a snub-nosed automatic; P evades effortlessly, slices paralysing agent across his face, and has relieved him of his gun and is around the corner before he even hits the ground.

The door of Transhuman Resources is metal, pockmarked like the wall around it with the scars of a dozen direct assaults. A CCTV camera above it catches P’s movement, swivels onto them. They shoot it out with the tech’s automatic, step back as the door electrifies itself, crouch in the middle of the hall, wait. P’s infostream is working overtime now, throwing out tactical advice, data on the opposition, levels of ammunition, ways to take advantage of the fact that no one in HR thought to install a gun emplacement on the door, that they will have to open it, that although they authorised the Agency to deliver her here, because she is a temp they did not consider it necessary to check P’s CV, and they do not know who P is, or what they can do.

No one here really knows what they can do.

When the door opens with a hiss — P registers that it’s an airlock, stores that knowledge for later — at least three men wearing breathers and uniforms like P’s charge out, two abreast, an alarm klaxon sounding behind them. P does a tight forward roll, tumbles directly between the first two, and under their fire shoots one up through the chin with the auto, one in the abdomen with the SMG; at point-blank range, their body armour doesn’t help much. P swings to one side, allows one of the men to fall on them as they rise, charge him into the next two, who are trying to get a shot; their hesitation allows P to use the man to take their bullet fire, bear them down and execute them both simultaneously as they try to stand. More bullets fly; one catches P on the shoulder at an angle just oblique enough for the armour to deflect it, but the impact hurts enough to remind P that they are alive.

“That stings,” they say, returning fire with the guns in both hands, striding forward now without any instinct for self-preservation, like a protagonist from a movie, dropping two men before either of them can even get close to hitting her. One falls against the airlock door; it tries to shut, can’t, trapping any further attackers inside the HR office. Until they accept that they’ll give up the protection the airlock affords.

P snatches a breathing mask from one of the dead men. It’s smashed up. It took a bullet. They throw it to one side, find one that’s intact. The THR resources have tear gas canisters; the idiots didn’t think to use them. P realises that they are opposed by Transhuman Resources managers with guns; P is a temp, and as such is automatically more competent, infinitely more efficient. They don’t stand a chance.

The auto is empty. P tosses it. With their pockets stuffed full of swipe cards, loaded up with a couple of tear gas canisters and another gun strapped over their shoulders, P steps into the airlock, kicking the dead man jamming the door out of the way with some difficulty. P becomes aware that they are sweating. They swipe a card, open two canisters, chuck them in before the door is even half open.
P doesn’t meet with a whole lot of resistance. Senior administrators lock their doors; junior members of staff choke, flounder, beg. Fluorescent lights refract through thick yellow smoke. P can hear their own breathing in the mask, heavy and solid. By the time the closed ventilation system has disposed of the gas, P has paralysed or murdered everyone who offers resistance.

The room labelled “Redeployment” is down a flight of steps. None of P’s liberated swipecards work, but a burst from the SMG does just fine. A man in a white orderly’s tunic tries to protest; a single swipe of P’s index finger and he topples. P sees what looks like an operating table with mechanical arms poised over it; a row of seats against one wall, next to hardwiring terminals. Five people in medical gowns sit against the opposite wall, strapped into dentist chairs, all in a row: IV drips in their arms, heads lolling, eyes staring. Klaire is the one to the left. They’ve shaved one side of her head. Her eyes have already begun to go milky. P pulls off the breather and removes the IV with leisurely care, slaps Klaire’s face gently.

Klaire should be fine. She’s barely been prepped. She has only been here half an hour, if that.

Klaire looks up at P. “Pubs?” she says.

“Sorry, no.”

P undoes the straps, lifts Klaire’s arm over their shoulder.

By the time they’re at the top of the stairs, Klaire is walking by herself, and seems fully conscious, if a little wobbly.

“Did you do this?” she says, stepping carefully over the paralysed and dead, nearly tripping.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“To get you.”

“You’re not supposed to come and get me. Rina probably — no, she definitely told you not to. It’s against the rules.”

P turns, lowers their gun. “I needed to do something... stupid. I wanted to do something that was about me. Being me.” Her heads-up display beeps. She becomes aware of someone creeping behind her in a crouching stance. She turns, guns the man down with a three-round burst, turns back to Klaire. “And you’re nice.”

Klaire stops, puts her hands on her hips. “So you came here and killed a shitload of people. And it wasn’t about me at all? What, you wanted to exalt your humanity?” She looks appalled.

P shrugs. “It was about you a bit. You’re nice.”

“And what about the others?”

“I don’t know them.”

Klaire stares at her. “You’ve started something awful. THR are going to bomb the office for what you’ve done.”

P looks around. It’s almost silent here now. People are strewn across the floor. Wisps of tear gas still hang around the floor; the air stinks of garlic. At the reception desk, a desktop PC is burning, taking the desk with it. A pair of high-heeled feet stick out from under the desk. Blood spatters the walls periodically. The very few bodies that make any sound at all are gurgling or sobbing feebly. The LED lights on armoured doors behind which senior administrators cower blink.

“They won’t for a little while.”

“I’m not worth that,” says Klaire. “They were just doing their jobs.”

“You’re alive,” says P.

“I am.” Klaire turns and makes for the door, gets half way, wobbles, leans against a wall, both hands pressed against the Artex, head down. She vomits on the floor. P waits for her to finish, gets under one arm, supports her all the way back to the Office.

P passes a few more administrative personnel on the way back. Most of them are armed.

No one challenges them.

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