P A R T 1
She walked past the fence and glided into the house with ease. The gate wasn’t unlocked, but the lock obliged without much of a fuss. As she walked further into the sleeping house, a strange feeling passed over her, a certain sense of déjà-vu. The sensation was so strong she had to stop for a second, overwhelmed by her body’s strange response. She shook her head and looked around, trying to get rid of the unwelcome feeling. But that didn’t help. The kitchen made her feel a sense of longing, and the living room opposite it made her think that what she was about to do was very, very wrong.
A rush of static through her earpiece pulled her back to reality, forcing her to concentrate on the present. ‘A-24, why have you stopped?’
For the first time since waking up, she felt an inexplicable urge to lie to her handler. ‘I thought I saw something out of my peripheral vision, sir.’
Silence ensued as she waited for them to tell her they knew the truth, that they knew she was lying, that they knew she recognised this place. The seconds stretched on, each passing one unbearably longer than the previous. Her heart, whatever was left of it anyway, leapt into her throat, threatening to rise to her mouth and out her.
Then her ear was finally filled with the crackling static of her handler preparing to respond. ‘Nearby cameras can’t see any threats. You are clear to go. Proceed, A-24.’
She straightened her shoulders and marched up the stairs, batting away any thoughts of doubt or guilt that began to creep into her brain. She needed to concentrate on the task at hand.
Pushing the door to her mission’s bedroom, she saw a woman sleeping with a child wrapped in her arms. She paused for a moment taking in the way the full moon hit their faces. They looked so calm, so content. An image, strangely similar to the scene in front of her, flashed across her mind and the feeling of déjà-vu returned. For a moment, she considered leaving. She didn’t want to disturb the purity of the scene. But that thought only confused her more. She’d killed plenty of others before and none of those had bothered her. There was no reason why this should be any different.
Once again, she shook off her apprehension and slowly unsheathed her standard issue Glock-17. She clicked a suppressor to the mouth of the barrel and took aim, her shadow draping over them, casting a blanket of death over their innocent forms.
The reservation then came back, as, for a split-second, she wondered if she knew the people lying in front of her. In the next, she pulled the trigger, sending studded projectiles towards their stomachs. She wasn’t sure why they made her aim for the stomach, the temple would be much easier and quicker, but she didn’t argue. She didn’t ask questions. A-24 simply did as she was told.
As the bullets made contact, the victims’ eyes flew wide open, the colour gradually draining from them. Then their faces relaxed as they slipped into a permanent slumber. She watched impassively as the sheets they lay on slowly turned a dark shade of crimson. And in that moment, the source of her apprehension dawned on her. She suddenly realised why she felt as though she had been to this house before, why she felt as though she knew the bodies before her.
It was because she did.
She knew this house. She had laughed with these people. They had been her family. Before they took her and wiped her memories. The memory of nursing the dead child in front of her. The memory of cooking merrily with the dead woman in front of her. The memory of painting this very room while the dead child clapped and laughed along happily.
Yet she didn’t know what scared her more: the fact that she had just killed her whole family or the fact that she couldn’t bring herself to regret it.
P A R T 2
‘A-24, is there a problem? This is the second time you have stopped.’
Her voice wavered when it escaped her mouth, ‘No, no there isn’t. No problem.’ She knew she was on the line, that they would hit their red button if her response wasn’t acceptable.
She considered that outcome. Would that really be so bad? Considering what she had turned into, what they had turned her into. What she had just done. Was her life worth anything anymore?
‘A-24, do not stop again unless told to do so. Proceed with the body removal process.’
The man on the other side of the command shook his head and swiped his glasses off his face, rubbing his temple in frustration. The system hadn’t been working on A-24 lately. She had been showing signs of remembrance, of feeling. Things that weren’t ever meant to happen. The system had been designed to create a legion of killers. Thoughtless killers who followed commands blindly, and did nothing else.
He put his glasses back on and turned his attention to the screen in front of him once again. A-24 had not moved. She was just staring at the corpses. His hand wavered over the kill switch, the button that would send a lethal amount of electricity through the implanted chip and rasped a warning into the mike.
‘A-24. Get. On. With it.’
She stayed frozen for a second, and the man was about to bring his hand down. But then she moved towards the bodies and scooped them up. She began the standard disposal process, the same one she had given to over twenty other bodies: remove the limbs and the head from the target and bury the six resulting pieces in the victim’s own yard.
She reached for her waist and unsheathed a scarily clean knife. It sparkled sinisterly in the moonlight. A-24 was about to make the first incision (the right arm always went first, followed by the left, the legs in the same order, and finally the head), but something stopped her. She let the knife fall to the ground. Her knees buckled and then gave out underneath her. Tears began to streak across her face as she knelt between the bodies, patting them lovingly.
The man in charge of her stared at the screen trying to make sense of what he was looking at. A-24 had developed feelings. She had woken up. She had realised that these people were her family and that she had just killed them.
This couldn’t be accepted.
Sitting between the bodies of her family, she knew the little red button was her future. She didn’t try to fight it, she deserved this end. In her last moments, A-24, who had long forgotten her own name, tried desperately to recall her family’s.
P A R T 3
‘Goodbye, A-24.’ He brought his hand down on the button and watched passively as the figure on the screen spasmed and thrashed like a fish out of water. A few minutes later, all movement came to a jerky halt and she lay limp next to the makeshift grave. The man packed up the file open in front of him, straightened his tie, and got ready to deliver some very bad news to a very easily angered boss.
He strode down the hallway of doors, silently nodding his head at each of the copper plaques he recognised — Mary W. White, Jake Allister, Kristen Zeb, Alex Steadman — and not paying attention to the ones he didn’t. Santusht Grazelman was a man of business; he didn’t have a care in the world for people he didn’t know.
He paused at the very end of the corridor in front of a door larger than the rest. It boasted a polished bronze plate that lettered ZACHARY WARRICK, and a perfectly shaped handle with a snake embezzled on it. He took a deep breath and knocked thrice with only his knuckles. After a short pause, a curt ‘Come in,’ rasped out. He timidly opened the door and walked in apologetically.
‘Yes?’ asked the man impatiently from behind the desk, not bothering to look up from his computer.
‘I’m afraid I have some disturbing development to report, sir.’ Grazelman waited for a reaction but got none. He continued, ‘A-24, one of our Pacifieds, went rogue, sir. She developed feelings.’ He spat out that last word to make sure his distress was evident.
Warrick looked up. ‘Her mission file?’ he asked, his arm outstretched.
Grazelman handed it to him wordlessly. He took a moment to scan through the introduction, then flipped to the end to view the latest mission. Grazelman hadn’t updated its status yet, but all the details were right there. Finally, Warrick spoke, ‘I trust she finished the mission, though?’
‘Yes, sir. I had control over her for long enough to make sure of that.’ Warrick nodded.
‘This A-24, she was your recruit, yes?’
Grazelman did not like where this was going. ‘Yes, sir. She was my recommendation and was put under my direct jurisdiction.’
‘Mr…’ he paused to look at Grazelman’s name tag, ‘…Grazelman, are you aware of what happened to the others whose recruits failed?’
Grazelman gulped. No one knew exactly what happened to them for sure because corporate never released any information, but people had their suspicions behind the sudden missing persons. They became canteen talk, water cooler talk, workstation talk. Their names cropped up in every conversation for the next few weeks, theories about their disappearances were woven together. There were many, but there was one that seemed far more likely than any other.
They were put into the program themselves. They were turned into one of the Pacifieds — beings that exist only to carry out the orders of their superiors.
‘I…have an idea.’
Warrick smiled contently, ‘Why do you think you’ll be treated differently?’
An uncomfortable silence pervaded through the room, as Grazelman tried to think of a reason that would please his boss. None came to him.
Warrick nodded and clicked his fingers. Two large men emerged from the shadows of the room from either side of Grazelman and held him firmly. Grazelman knew there was no point struggling, but he tried anyone. He trashed and shouted, but a punch to the face left him limp and wordless.
His name became the one that cropped up in every conversation for the next couple of weeks.
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