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Marionette
Author Dynamo
Participants Dynamo, Blade Marionette
IC Date: 15 April 2215
RL Date: 12 July 2009
Story Arc
Location Mainland China
Soundtrack


The mission was simple enough, I thought, working my way into the city, a serape wrapped around my body armor. Simple enough to bore me, though the price was right. Criminal enforcement, they said, but I knew murder when I saw it. It was all the same to me, at any rate; when one kills for a living, it doesn't pay to make moral judgment calls.

Generous Father. They'd given me the name in Chinese, but I liked the translation better. Mandarin is a beautiful language, but I've always prefered the terseness of English. He was a pimp and a drug runner. I've worked for worse, and killed better. It obviously wasn't his real name, but that didn't concern me. It fit, it was almost poetic, and so it had to be a pseudonym. Life is seldom poetic, I've found.

Like most towns in central China, this one was little better than a slum, a place where people just made do. There were few dreams here, you could tell by the looks on the faces in the street. It reeked of despair. Generous Father was no better than these people, but he had ambition. He grew rich and fat from the money of the people, their meager earnings eked out from mining or farming. In the wake of the Chinese Revolution last century, corruption was the surest way to power.

The town didn't even have a name, and I was an outsider in a sea of Chinese. You didn't see outsiders in this town. The grand designs of the United Nations fell short of this little slum. It was as though the place were trapped in the past. With some confidence, I could say that I was the only reploid in a hundred miles.

Generous Father's abode would not be so rustic. He would have guards. These guards would have lasers, probably scavenged from murdered UN Peacekeepers, with armor to match. It was possible there would be a gun emplacement, maybe even a forcefield generator. If he was really wealthy or well-connected, he'd have android guards, even if they were just reprogrammed and reconditioned Joes from the secondary market. If he was lucky.

I did my best to avoid the stares of the simple people as I made my way down the dirt-lined streets. I was likely the first reploid many of them had ever seen. It didn't bother me, but it was more attention than I liked. Generous Father would know I was coming, but that was part of the deal. My employers wanted him to know the end was coming. Not a smart idea, walking into a hostile situation, but what can I say? I'm adaptable.

Generous Father's fortress was an abandoned factory, the windows dark, the chimneys forever stilled during the ion strikes that ended the Revolution. I didn't expect it to be dark inside, but it was obvious he didn't bother lighting every room. It would be something to watch out for... that darkness could hide snipers.

One of the advantages to being a reploid is the capacity to handle requests like this one. Walking in through the front gates in broad daylight is what is known as, in the mercenary trade, a bloody stupid idea. Even with the armor and defensive programming I have, it's hardly smart.

Pushing aside the gates to the compound with a shove, I tossed away the serape, letting them see precisely who they were dealing with. The act had a certain flair to it, a kind of Sergio Leone credibility that I found attractive. So few people have taste anymore. I gave the guards a double ten-count before phasing my helmet in over my silver hair, giving them just enough time to call in and find out just who I am.

Two men by the door. Two on the roof. At least three in the darkened windows. I'd guess at least one man patrolling the wall, as well. Two would be better, but I was already picking holes in Father's security. I decided not to give the guards time to decide whether or not to kill me and teleported. Electrical distortions tore space around me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt the subproccessor on the edge of consciousness turning my thoughts into precise spatial calculations.

Generous Father should have put a man on the high chimney of the factory. It would have given him an impressive vantage point and command of the field. A good sniper, like the Winter Wolf, could turn the entire town into a killing field. I made it my advantage as I appeared atop the chimney. Ten seconds was all I needed to survey the area, pinpointing the lone patrolman busting his ass towards the main doors. From the distant shouting, they clearly had no idea where I went. Fools. This was hardly going to be any fun at all.

I stepped into the open air, letting myself plummet towards the rooftop and two oblivious guards. Their life expectancy had shortened to seconds, but I'm sure the fact never dawned on them as I pulled a pair of beam daggers from my belt, the red-violet blades hissing to life as I pitched around and fired my dash jets to slow my descent. No sense tearing through the roof. The guards heard the sound of the jets, though it gave them only time enough to show me the dull glazed look of surprise in their eyes as I drove the blades into their chests.

Contrary to what the movies tell you, death is not a swift or elegant moment. One of the men, my blade driven through to his spinal column, jerked uncontrollably in his final moments. I pulled each blade through them with a single quick motion, their bodies spinning away and collapsing into a pool of their own blood. They probably weren't dead, not yet. Their suffering was not my concern. Two targets neutralized.

Picking up one of their rifles, I wondered how generous Generous Father actually was. These were old-model World War III Kalashnikovs, and they belonged in a museum, not on the battlefield. Setting the antique rifle aside, my blink engine hummed to life once more, reappearing against the door of the facility, my arm cannon shifting into active mode. This time, the guards at the door had no time to react, pausing only long enough to confirm their positions before squeezing off a single shot. The twin spiral of plasma erupted from my cannon, splitting in mid-flight and striking both guards.

I didn't even wait for them to finish falling before firing again, twisting to my left and catching the lone patrol in a gout of plasma fire. I didn't check the guards as I turned and kicked the door in. I didn't need to. They didn't have armor, and plasma burns aren't pretty. The door sailed inward, but not as far as I would have liked, a Chinese curse cutting through the air as it struck flesh. I didn't wait, blinking once more and reappearing on the roof, looking down and waiting for the guards to rush outside.

Four men rushed out, a double split blast from my arm cannon enough to drop them all. Boring, I thought sourly. Almost not worth the money. Surely there must be some challenge here? Perhaps it's the fault of my design, but combat is the only thing that brings me pleasure. I've tried, don't get me wrong. Art, sports, music... only battle satisfies. Needless to say, it makes one a bit of a snob when it comes to picking fights.

Making my way into the facility, I saw more trappings of Father's "generosity." Naked light bulbs illuminated a dirty hallway. Muffled noises came from locked rooms, two people behind one closed door, three behind another. As I walked down the hall, I picked up the traces of opium smoke in the air. The hall reeked of sweat and smoke, bile and sex. I supposed the humans ignored it, or tried. Maybe it actually drew them here. I would never know, being a reploid, and I never cared to.

I began kicking open doors as I walked down the hall, ignoring the shouts of lust-maddened men and the screams of farmers' and miners' daughters, too poor to start a family, too ugly to marry, or too desperate for their own money or a quick opium fix. Some ran; most simply cowered. It didn't matter to me either way. I didn't see my target, and my interest in them ended there. The guards upstairs would be on their way down, and I wanted to find Generous Father and be done with it.

A large door stood at the end of the hall, the stairway next to it twisting up into the darkness of the upper floors. The door was sealed, an intercom mounted on one side to ask for access, probably a new modification to the place. This was probably where I needed to be, but the stairway came first. Drawing my beam saber, I made three short slashes, severing the stair supports that would bear the weight of anyone coming down. They would get a painful, possibly fatal surprise. I didn't care what happened, so long as the fall made noise. I would want that edge against attacks from behind.

I toyed with the idea of calling in over the intercom, but he had to know I was coming. I didn't waste my time. Saber already drawn, I simply cut the hinges and latch from the door with two quick strokes. The heavy door groaned, falling inward with a resounding crash.

I was expecting an office, maybe even an opium den. I was wrong. Cages lined the walls, each maybe spacious enough for a large dog. I could only assume the contents of these cages were reserved for Generous Father's most valued clients. Africans, Indians, a Caucasian girl who could not have been more than thirteen, all displayed like animals, barely clothed. Their faces had the cowed look of the broken, lost to their fates, the sexual playthings of whoever could afford Generous Father's fees.

Doubtless my employer would want this valuable property for himself. These people probably no longer existed, long given up for dead or erased by the connections of Father's superiors, my employers. I had other plans.

I am a killer, crafted by men who do not exist, working for a government that denies my existence. I am what they wanted me to be. Pleasure from violence, loyalty to my superiors, excellence in all that I do, and no capacity for morality. But they never thought to make me like what I was.

I am a slave. I will not sit idly by and allow others to live in bondage. Yes, I'm a monster, a murderer. My hands have shed the blood of the innocent and the guilty alike. It's the only life I've ever known, and I have no illusions about what I am. I ask not for sympathy or understanding. But all the same, I will not tolerate others being used like this.

I did not free the women. Not yet. Reaching for a belt pouch, I pulled a transponder beacon, a handy signaller that I plucked from a dead UN Peacekeeper. It would bring the cavalry, maybe the Repliforce, and they would hopefully do right by these poor women. They would do what I could not.

There was another door in the rear of the "kennel," this one leading to a small hallway. God knows what this part of the building once was. I didn't bother knocking, raising my arm cannon and blowing away the door at the far end of the hall. Almost instinctively, I disengaged the locks on my wrist, spinning my blade hand to form an energy shield as I heard a strangled curse from the next room. The shield did its job, deflecting the shotgun blast, the wall around me peppered with scorch marks and small holes.

I fell back, into the hallway, feigning a hit. Muffled Chinese could be heard with the creak of bedsprings. Someone had been busy. I waited, and let him think that I was dead, letting my body lay still. Was he finishing what he started? Cocky bastard.

It was the crash of the stairs outside that finally brought Generous Father out. I'll never know what he made of the noise, and I don't care. It served its purpose. He poked his head into the hallway, a balding Chinese man barely 5'5". He was naked and sweaty, holding a pump-action shotgun in his fat, slippery fingers. He was thinner than I thought he'd be, a few dozen pounds between "pudgy" and "Buddha-esque." He obviously had been busy, but I don't think he'd had time to finish.

None of that mattered. Text scrolled onto my visor, a message my employers wanted me to deliver to Generous Father before his death. I ignored it. After all, he wouldn't be able to tell them I didn't say it. His eyes bulged slightly as he realized I wasn't human, or indeed hurt at all. I stabbed him once, quickly, right through the heart, his gaze turning to one of horror and pain before my eyes. I gave him no time to think or speak. Deactivating the blade, I spun it around and ignited the second end of the beam saber, severing Generous Father's head.

Leaping back to my feet, I stepped into the room, more of curiosity than anything else. The woman on the bed wasn't moving, legs spread wide, her body glistening with the fat man's sweat. She wasn't breathing, but this didn't surprise me. I could already tell she wasn't human. She had been built for beauty, not athletics, dark brown synthflesh making her look Indian. She wasn't fully human in appearance... just enough was obviously robotic that there was no mistaking what you were on top of. Her face was expressionless, framed by flowing violet hair. A distant, confusing recess of my mind told me she was beautiful.

"Master?"

The girl rose slowly with this question, her voice quiet and submissive. I felt a second pang of emotion, unpleasant and unfamiliar, pouding in my brain as I looked at her. She was a sad sight, modest only due to the red silk blanket she clutched to her chest as she rose. I could see that her skin was torn in places, her endoskeleton and myomer musculature visible around her joints. Her skin was stained, not just with sweat, but blood, hydraulics, and other fluids.

"Who are you?"

I didn't recognize my own voice for a moment, unsure why I'd even asked the question. This was a victim, a slave, another of many. But something was different about her. Something was different about the way I felt. I couldn't put my finger on it, and it bothered me.

"I am Marionette," she said calmly. "Where is Master?"

"Generous Father is dead," I replied, stepping aside so she could see the severed head on the floor, a pool of blood slowly growing around it.

"Are you going to kill me, too?"

I paused. It was a not question I expected from a slave I'd just freed. She was a robot, probably an android, and the only explanation was that she had been built as a slave. This was her whole life. I felt a wave of revulsion pass through me, and I briefly considered desecrating Generous Father's corpse. But that wouldn't change things.

"I will not. You're free."

"What am I to do? Master is dead."

"You belong to him?"

"I was created to serve."

This was confirmation, but I wasn't surprised. Despite the lofty aspirations of men like Thomas Light, humans so often fall back upon their base urges. Put bluntly, they crave sex and violence, daily affirmation to the Coalition to Reploid Freedom that humans are nothing but animals. Still, I can't fault mankind. We can't choose our own natures any more than we can choose our creators. We can merely abide by them, or struggle to overcome them. I abide, but I must admit that there is something attractive in the struggle, futile though it may be.

"You'll have to come with me, Marionette," I finally said, and I could see her struggling with this notion.

"But... I must serve Master."

I was left, I realized, with a surprisingly narrow set of options. The most merciful thing, perhaps, would be to kill her. She was made to be a toy to sate a disgusting man's lust, and there wouldn't be much for her beyond this. But though I am killer for hire, I will not take a life like this. I can not.

"I... I will be your Master now, Marionette," I finally said. "And you're due for a career change."

"Master?"

"No, no," I said. "My name is Duelist Cavalier, or you can just call me Dynamo. And I'll take you somewhere safe. There'll be no Marionette for Generous Father's superiors to recover. From now on, you will stay with me. I'll find something for you to do, even if it's just to carry my blade."

"Blade... Marionette?"

I grinned. "Why not?"