Experiment: Day 1
September 24th
A large Plexiglas enclosure took Stef’s attention. There were large shapes moving inside – multiple freaks in the one cage, this was something different. She came to within five feet of the enclosure and stopped, frozen to the spot by the inability to comprehend what she saw.
Her mind reeled. Her stomach turned. She vomited.
The regurgitated remains of her snacks splashed on the floor in an inelegant puddle on the floor in front of her. She went to her knees, falling forward onto her hands, dry-heaving until she began to hyper-ventilate.
She slowly fell back into a seated position, trying to focus her mind on being disgusted with herself, rather than the unholy vista within the Plexiglas enclosure.
Ryan replaced the view, and she felt the vomit disappear from her hands and knees. He required a wet wash cloth and wiped the corners of her mouth. He handed her a bottle of water. ‘Here, get the taste out.’
‘How do I get the bad taste out of my brain?’
‘That…that is a lot harder,’ he said as he pushed the wash cloth into her hand. ‘Spit.’
She gargled the water and spat into the wash cloth.
She peeked past him. ‘I’m probably being a horrible bigot, and it’s based on some fae form or something, right? But…they’re just wrong. They feel wrong.’
Eight. There were eight of them. Each of them a moving mass of hyper-developed muscles, an uneven form, like a gorilla, and they moved like apes too – a knuckled walk, weight centred low in the body.
The bodies – fetish fuel for freak – were enough, but the faces were even worse. It was a human-enough face, but flat, as if it had been smacked with a shovel too many times, or run over with an Acme steamroller. The features were…somehow stretched – like a picture cropped and extended until it pixelated at the edges.
They sort of looked like Taylor, if his face had been squashed flat with an Acme steamroller, had string looped through the ears, then been tied onto an ape as a mask.
‘There’s been several occasions,’ Ryan said as he gently pulled her to her feet, ‘where we have come far too close to an all-out war, these have been in development as-’
‘Cannon-fodder?’
‘Infantry,’ he said, ‘they’re able to withstand a far greater deal of damage than any of us.’
‘They’re tanks, I get that, but-’
‘They’re works in progress.’
‘Is that why they all have the same face?’ she asked, hearing the manic tone slipping in. She shook her head. ‘Ok, but not in production cause we’re not about to head to war?’
‘Technology is making it less and less likely that we will find ourselves in the kind of war that they were designed for. We can’t erase everything that gets on the net, but we get enough. Technology, secrecy and a little self-control from all sides may mean that by and large humans don’t know about magic-’
‘Or believe completely the wrong things about it.’
‘Or that, but that has made us a lot safer. The Solstice, as they stand, are a threat on an individual basis. They kill single fae, or small groups. They aren’t a large-scale threat, but they so easily could be. More soldiers, more resources, entire cities going black. We wouldn’t be able to function.’
‘…are there any other war machines?’
‘Don’t eat anything whilst we’re here.’
Beyond the gorilla enclosure was another large cage, but this one…even taller. A tall, elongated shadow fell across the floor. A chill ran up her legs and stayed – a physical sensation rather than plain, simple fear.
She stared at the shadow, and let her eyes slips out of focus.
The chill disappeared, as did the shadow.
‘Stef?’
She took a deliberate step behind him, careful not to look at the cage. ‘Is that Slender Man? I don’t want to look at Slender Man.’
‘It is rather slender, but you’re referencing something, aren’t you?’
‘Fake internet urban legend that based on my luck and that shadow is probably true.’
‘It’s called an Observer,’ he said, ‘or a Scanner. There’s some debate, and people tend to pick one and stick with it.’
‘But it’s not designed to kidnap kids?’
‘Why are you under the impression that the Agency has sinister intentions towards children?’
She looked up at the Slender-Man-freak-agent, and was glad that she had already emptied her stomach. He stood at somewhere over eight feet, though some of his compatriots in the enclosure stood at well over nine feet.
‘So- So what-‘
He put his hand into the shadow the Observer cast on the floor. ‘It can scan everything that falls within its shadow with a hyper-sensitivity that we wouldn’t be able to process. From there, their observations are rendered into tactical decisions and troop movements.’
‘So why is it cold?’
‘It’s a primitive attempt at psychic warfare.’
She turned to him. ‘Did you really just say that?’
‘Yes.’
‘Huh. Cool.’
‘It’s never progressed like we wanted it to, though. The most we could do is get it to affect other agents. It’s still a work in progress.’
‘Though useless unless we have a civil war.’
He gave her a nod.
She stood and stared at the Scanners again. Just like the gorillas, the faces were wrong – but these were a different kind of wrong. The head-shape was closer to that of a Roswell grey than a human, and just like the-
‘Is Area 51 one of ours?’
‘Pardon?’
‘Area 51, Agency cover-up?’
He gave her a smile. ‘I’m not privy to all Agency secrets.’
‘Are you saying that to make me feel better?’
‘What if I was?’
‘Wouldn’t care.’ She finally stared at the Observer’s face, afraid that it would be nothing more than the blankness of a store mannequin. ‘Jesus H kitten fucking raptor Christ!’
She stumbled back, dragging Ryan with her, keeping the agenty shield between her and the enclosure.
‘It’s all right,’ Ryan said calmly as he turned. He pulled his arm free of her grip, then gently laid his hands on her shoulders. ‘It’s all right.’
She swallowed and looked past him. ‘There’s still no excuse for that mouth,’ she said as she stared at the butterfly-like proboscis.
‘There is, actually,’ Ryan said. ‘Their only food source is liquid blue, to that end, this is what was devised.’
‘So they’re fucked if they get stuck in a blackout zone.’
‘It will likely be revised before it ever goes into the field.’
She turned her attention to the huge green eyes. ‘Green eyes really are a thing down here. The apes had them as well.’
‘It’s a quirk of the generation process,’ he said as they started to walk towards the end of the room, ‘green eyes are the second-most commonly generated colour. Likely it’s a leftover from the days when they wanted agents to be distinct, when they wanted us to have a readily identifiable form, rather than just relying on a uniform.’
‘I thought we were supposed to blend.’
‘Think about it, Stef, it’s hard to blend with a fourteen-foot wingspan.’
‘Insert rant here about how it’s not fair we don’t have wings anymore.’
He sighed. ‘Would you prefer wings or cookies?’
‘Buh?’
‘Back when we had wings, we weren’t allowed frivolous requirements.’
‘I thought…didn’t you say something about not being allowed to know the past?’
‘Knowing about our previous incarnations – those our parts were recycled from is discouraged, but knowing the policies and attitudes of an era is simple historical fact, we’re allowed that.’
She lifted her legs onto the crate and settled cross-legged. ‘You’re going to have to pause on the recycled thing.’
Ryan looked uncomfortable for a moment. ‘This is another one of those areas where people tend to-‘
‘Yeah, well, I’m not people, so you’re safe.’
He gave her a serious look. ‘Don’t ever say that, Stef.’ He sighed, and settled onto his crate. ‘When an agent dies, or is made redundant, we recycle them. There’s a chamber,’ he paused for a moment, ‘two levels up from where we currently are. An agent steps into it, and is broken down into their components. Their memories, their knowledge, their abilities, each is sectioned and made piecemeal, ready to serve in a new agent when the need arises. Well,’ he said, ‘not their memories, those are kept in another section, but everything else is fair game.’
Stef turned the idea over and over in her head. It made sense, right up to the point where it didn’t. ‘Ok, so there’s got to be the original set of modules, right? Kick Ass A, Computer Science B, that kind of stuff, right? If, and I’m assuming if, those modules haven’t been lost, then why bother ripping agents apart to reuse?’
‘If it makes you uncomfortable to think about…’
‘No, that wasp that eats a caterpillar from the inside out makes me uncomfortable to think about. This…I just want to understand. This is what I am as well, now, so unless there’s some sort of purity test, bits of me are going to be used in future agents, so I want to know.’
‘It’s the problem of consciousness.’
‘Buh?’
‘Our kind were initially all made from scratch, a clean copy of the code each time, nothing saved from the previous generation.’
‘There’s a “but” isn’t there?’
‘A large degree of newly-generated agents were failures. Think of what it’s like for someone born an agent – there’s nothing, then you open your eyes for the first time and you’re a fully functional, reasoning, conscious being.’
‘With a job and everything.’
‘Exactly. You are nothing, then you are everything. You are seeing everything for the first time, but you know what everything is, you’re forming full sentences with words you’ve never used before, you’re interacting people, but you’ve never been taught how to shake hands.’
‘I never…I never thought of that.’
‘That’s why so many of us would fail, it was just too much to comprehend all at once, and they’d just go mad, or shut down.’
‘Sheesh.’
He gave a nod. ‘Eventually, they found that using pieces from agents who had attained, and sustained consciousness helped with the process – that even if latently, unconsciously, there were parts of that new being that were used to being conscious, it made the whole process easier. It’s still difficult, but it’s no longer an insurmountable task.’
She nodded.
‘There’s also the inherent value in- While I don’t have the memories of the man I was templated from, I have some of his knowledge, and that information about the city was invaluable when I was a newborn. It would be near-instinctual knowledge that one side of the street had better coverage than the other, or where the areas of low-visibility where depending on the time of day.’
‘So what’s with the pouty face?’
‘We aren’t- Most agents don’t have the same degree of knowledge of their formers as I do. There’s two kinds of agents – those who are made fresh, but using components of their formers; and templates, who are largely the same as a former.’
‘So how much of him are you?’
‘It was around sixty percent to begin with, but with replacements and upgrades, the number has dropped.’
Emotions were harder to read than the code that had changed her life, but he was uncomfortable. She hopped off her crate and moved to sit beside him.
Touch. People found touch comforting. Normal people found touch comforting. Normal people who weren’t freaks still getting used to the idea of a hug.
She hugged his arm.
‘So. Um. Less than pleasant?’
‘Have you heard of Duskers?’
Stef shook her head.
‘Agents – as we are now, suits, regulation, imitation of civil federal authorities, civil servants and police – started appearing in the early nineteenth century, 1807 if you want to be exact. It was a period of time where we were using a few different types of-’
Stef held up her hands. ‘What the hell are we called anyway?’ she said, ‘the language always seems to focus on the specific, on the angel type, like we’ve got a species, but not a genus.’
‘It is because we are only meant to focus on the present. In all exactitude we’re blue-powered, ash-made constructs.’ He paused for a beat. ‘And no, you can’t make an acronym from it.’
‘BPMACs. Switches it a little, but…Bipmacs.’
‘I am not calling myself that.’
She pouted. ‘Bipbip?’
He smiled, but shook his head. ‘We were using several different varieties of-’
‘Bipmacs!’
‘-at the time, however, all but agents and Duskers were phased out. The agents…they were just like us, though without recruits and their policies were less refined, but still…all of their practices were recognisable.’
‘Yeah, I get you.’
‘Duskers, however, were nothing like them. They didn’t organise, they operated out of the shadows, they were ruthless, they were brutal. You may think some of our policies are harsh, but I’ve never strung a howler up by its innards as warning, or burned a fairy’s wings as punishment.’
‘Ew.’
‘One of Brisbane’s Duskers – Rhys – was one of the very last to go. He was an entirely unpleasant man, even for a Dusker and showed Reynolds none of the respect he deserved.’
‘Who?’
‘The real director of this Agency. The man who’s job I’m doing.’
‘So in all technicality, I work for a guy named Reynolds?’
He nodded.
‘You do realise you’ve made my month, right?’
Ryan gave her his confused narc look.
She sighed. ‘Look, if I use the phrase “space cowboy” you’re going to get even more lost, so can we just accept this as a me thing and you keep talking?’
He faltered for a moment, then nodded. ‘Reynolds felt bad for Rhys, unpleasant or not, he did his duty and wanted to continue that, but he couldn’t, all the Duskers had to die.’
‘Couldn’t have been easy.’
‘It wasn’t. Whenever we have to…cancel a variety of-’
‘Bipmacs.’
‘-there is dissent. The Duskers – a large percentage of them anyway – took it upon themselves to start a rebellion.’
‘And your former was one of these?’
‘Surprisingly not. He came willingly when it was his time. Duty was duty to him, even if that meant showing up to be recycled. Reynolds did the only thing he could think of to honour the man, and generated his first new agent from Rhys’ template.’
‘You aren’t him.’
‘But people are long-lived and more than a few remember him, so all they see is a violent wretch when they look at me.’
She stared up at him. ‘I see you.’
‘I know Stef,’ he ruffled her hair. ‘Thank you.’
‘If I’m thinking Batman, am I on the right track?’
He looked down at her. ‘Ask all of that again, but out loud this time.’
‘If I’m thinking Batman, am I on the right track?’
‘…I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Duskers. If they’re all in the shadows and stuff. Batman?’
‘More akin to Jack the Ripper than a superhero. They didn’t use guns, not up until the last few years. Everything they did was…knives, shivs, quick, brutal, up-close-and-personal. There were a lot more fae hanging at the fringes of human society than there are now, some innocent, some not, Duskers dealt with the “not”. They helped to force the segregation, it was coming anyway, but they managed to expedite it. They drove away friendly fae as well – none wanted to chance being mistaken for guilty when there was a Dusker around. There were no seconds chances.’
‘…was good old Jackie one of them?’
‘No.’
‘Just no?’
‘Not everything is an Agency conspiracy.’
‘Just some things.’
‘Even then, not as many as you would think.’
‘Roswell? Atlantis? Number stations?’
He stood, brushed down his suit, then offered his hand. ‘The Behemoth is next.’
‘You didn’t answer me-‘
He gave her his perfect narc look as he opened the door to the next area. ‘I’m aware of that, Miss Mimosa.’
She smirked, and followed him into the third room.