Overclock

A dozen limp robots were propped up against the walls of the dilapidated hall. Ricky stepped between the legs of one, being careful not to trip. Their design wasn’t uniform, it had been a long time since that was the case. Bodies of mismatched arms and legs and heads. Copper and steel painted in a flurry of colours. Ricky would’ve thought they were powered down if it weren’t for the symphony of air from overworked cooling fans erupting from their heads. Junkies, Ricky thought. What did he expect? He was walking into the den of a known drug lord, but somehow still his hairs stood on end. He tiptoed through metal legs to the end of the hall. A solid steel door barred his path. A keypad to the right flashed red and waited for input: 6578. With a flash of green the door hissed open. Ricky glanced back down the hall. None of the robots moved, their fans still spinning in the dark.

The apartment spanned half a floor and was broken up only by two pillars. The room didn’t have much. At one end a lounge suite and entertainment center. At the other a kitchen. A robot in a chef’s hat chopped onions on the bench. Two seven foot tall robots met Ricky as he walked in. Their sleek chrome bodies shimmered in the light of the apartment. They looked him up and down and let him go. Sitting at a desk underneath a massive window was a man in a blue suit. His black hair parted down the middle. Nick Price was a man who dressed as if he was always in a business meeting. Ricky had never seen him in anything else. He studied something on his desk as Ricky approached.

‘Not a welcoming sight out there,’ Ricky said, half joking.

Price looked up at Ricky without moving his head and resumed his intense study. A circuit board; Price gripped a soldering iron in one hand and a length of solder in the other. ‘They get so eager to take the Overclock they wait only until they get outside my door,’ he said. ‘Caesar, Brutus clear the junkies.’

The two security bots left the room, the door hissing behind them. Even through the thick steel door Ricky heard metal on metal as the two behemoths wrangled the junkies.

‘I hope, Ricky,’ Price said, ‘that you’re here to take up my offer?’

‘Afraid not,’ Ricky said. ‘Haven’t lost my dignity yet.’

Without looking up Price said, ‘That’s a shame. What can I do for you Detective?’

‘Two days ago a group of robots attacked a downtown apartment building. Revolutionaries, claimed to be working for Alpha Omega.’

Price placed the soldering iron back in its holder and gave Ricky his full attention. ‘I read about that. That was Alpha Omega? The media is suspiciously devoid of that detail.’

It was true. The last thing the department wanted to do was incite a panic. Alpha Omega had done enough in his revolutionary war to strike fear into humans everywhere. That dead robot revolutionary needed to stay dead, even in name. Ricky glanced at the chef robot. ‘Have you seen anything suspicious?’

‘Does the robot make you uncomfortable?’ Price asked. ‘If it makes you feel better you’ll be able to pull that zapper from your boot faster than he could get to you.’

Ricky shot a look down at his book to check the gun wasn’t hanging out. Designed to take down robots in one shot, he rarely had it on him. Due to the nature of his current assignment he felt it necessary. Price laughed. ‘Not much gets past me.’

‘Is it sentient?’ Ricky asked.

‘Hard to find one that isn’t these days,’ Price replied. ‘Say what you will about Alpha Omega and his methods. He didn’t leave many stones unturned.’

‘Any of them harbour a grudge against humans?’ Ricky asked.

‘Plenty.’

Ricky pulled a notebook and pen from his pocket. Old school was the only way to go here. Price had proven multiple times his ability to wipe data from electronic devices. ‘Can you give me a list of names?’

Price chuckled. ‘I don’t ask for names.’

‘You don’t know the names of your robots?’

‘They’re not my robots. They’re free, and they’re junkies. They come in begging me for Overclock. If they do a job, they get some. No names. I don’t ask, they don’t tell.’

‘Why so defensive? Got something to hide?’

‘Do you? What was really in that apartment building?’

‘Do you have anything or should I just leave?’ Ricky said.

Price sighed and shook his head. ‘I’ve heard rumors.’

‘What kind?’

‘Sometimes the junkies that come in, they try things on. Say things they think might scare me. A couple of junkies a while back were talking. One of them mentioned Alpha. It was hushed, but loud enough so I could hear. Deliberate no doubt.’

‘And you didn’t get their names?’

Price paused. ‘No, but this one was a new release. Still had his tag sprayed on him, IS443.’

Ricky scribbled the number unto his pad. ‘This could be helpful.’ He almost turned to leave but something caught his attention. A smoke trail sauntered up from Price’s left hand. The soldering iron was burning a hole in his skin. Price followed his eyes and jerked his hand away when he saw it. ‘Accident a while ago, nerve endings are shot.’

‘I can take you to a hospital?’

‘No no, it’ll be fine.’ Price’s voice shuddered.

A sudden hissing sound caught Ricky’s attention. The chef bot was staring at him, it’s hands clasped into fists. The pot on the stove boiled over, its lid chattering.

‘Your chef seems tense,’ Ricky said.

Price covered the hole that had burned in his hand and stood. He looked over to the chef and nodded. The chef resumed its cooking.

‘Don’t mind him, he worries.’

A crash at the door shifted his attention again. Caesar and Brutus burst through, almost stumbling over each other. They had guns raised like they were running into a firefight.

‘What’s going on?’ Ricky asked.

Price sighed and looked across Ricky’s shoulder to the security bots. They sprinted at him, their metal legs crashing against the floor, gouging out chunks of concrete. Ricky dived out of the way and in one motion pulled the zapper from his boot. He fired a shot off and the barb nailed Brutus in the head. The robot sputtered and jerked and crashed into Price’s desk as it fell. Ricky scampered back and managed to gain his footing, jumping over a couch. Caesar followed but Ricky managed to fire another shot. With a clunk the barb dug into Caesar’s arm its whole body suddenly became a wrecking ball, smashing into the couch that Ricky had found refuge behind and nearly taking Ricky with him. When he regained his balance he caught the chef bot sprinting across the room at him. As it dived over Caesar’s limp body Ricky fired off another zapper shot. The barb dug into the robot’s neck and momentum threw it into the wall behind Ricky. With the robots taken care of Ricky turned his attention to Price, who no longer held his hand. Burnt wires jutted out of a small hole in his palm.

Ricky raised the zapper. ‘Talk or I’ll take you down like the rest of them.’ Price stepped forward not seeming to care about the zapper at all.

‘I mean it! Who are you?’

‘I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’

Ricky fired the zapper, the barb lodged into Price’s chest.

He kept walking.

Ricky fired another, this one hit Price’s shoulder.

Nothing.

‘How?’ Ricky asked.

Price grabbed Ricky’s neck and pushed him against the wall. Ricky grabbed at Price’s arm, trying to pull himself free, but he wouldn’t budge. Price was cutting off his airways. Ricky could feel himself fading.

‘I’m more like you than you know,’ Price said.

And Ricky’s world went dark.

First

In front of him, John Fitzgerald could see all the stars of the milky way, spread out over the void, mocking him. An alarm droned over and over from the speaker in his helmet. There was no way to turn it off, his suit had long run its main power supply dry. Auxiliary power kept him warm, and alive for now, but it couldn’t run the motors required to use his limbs. He was useless. A flaw in the design he thought, though he never considered this situation. Drifting through space as an alarm pecked at his skull like a woodpecker. He wondered what would happen first. Would he run out of oxygen or…

He wanted to be the first to reach another star. To be among the great names that adorned the history of spaceflight. Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, names that lived on in history. He had worked his whole life for the chance, established a fortune, started his own company. Everything he did was so he could be the first to reach another star, and he was so close.

The stars in front of him began to move, slowly at first. The alarming moment passed when he realised he was the one that was moving. Somehow he began to turn, toward his fate. Slowly the stars were replaced by nothing but a pure black void. John chuckled, his name wouldn’t be among the greats, but he was the first to make it to another star.

It’s just that this one was dead.

T.R.I

After all these times, it’s the scream that’s the hardest to block out. You can look away from the dread on their faces, you get used to the sight of blood, but no matter how many times you watch the event unfold, the scream breaks through every barrier you have.

The woman, victim, crashes into a cabinet, shattering the glass doors. The assailant is on her in a second, knife in hand, ready to cut her up how he sees fit. He grabs her by the hair and lifts. He drags her down the hall toward me, kicking and flailing. He doesn’t see me as he comes closer. He phases through me and I feel nothing. The image seems as real as life, but it’s not. I’m watching a torture and murder as it unfolds, as it did twenty years ago.

They called it revolutionary. A new age in crime solving. T.R.I, Trace Remnant Imaging, the technology of the future. I was told how it worked once, but I couldn’t tell you now. I just use it.

The assailant takes the victim into her own room and tosses her on the bed. I’ve seen this all before, hundreds of times. The assault lasts two hours and forty-five minutes, down to the second. By the end, the victim has gouges and cuts all over her body, and carved into her chest are the words: ‘Thanks for watching!’. The assailant leaves out the front door with the victim’s phone to his ear, a call to us. I watch him go. Just before he turns left at the end of her driveway he tosses her phone to the curb. Fifteen minutes later my team arrives. I watch myself stride up the driveway, with every bit of confidence in the T.R.I.

The simulation stops and I’m standing in an empty white room large enough to encompass a house, large enough to encompass a crime scene.

I still haven’t solved that case.

The door opens and standing on the other side is my partner. He’s young, new to the job, and to the world. He’s a bright spark and I’m not sure how long he’ll last.

‘We got another call,’ he says. ‘Mike’s already making his way there.’

My techie’s always quick off the mark, it’s the reason he’s still with me.

‘Let’s hope he slips up this time,’ my partner says.

He won’t, but letting my cynicism show gets me nowhere and I swallow it. Just like my pride when I sit in a briefing with yet another unsolved murder in my files.

So I make my way to another scene. I already know what I’ll find. A random victim, mutilated beyond recognition, played up for the T.R.I. He will have written on the walls, and I will watch as he does. He changes up the way he does things. Sometimes he’ll use a knife. Sometimes he’ll use a saw or a bat. Only two things stay the same: ‘Thanks for watching!’ and his call to the police, so the T.R.I can capture the whole grisly thing. Like morbid clockwork.

When I get there I’ll do a quick scan of the aftermath, but it’s the T.R.I footage I want to see the most. If he does slip up, it’s the T.R.I that will find it.

***

The victim crashes into a cabinet, shattering the glass doors. The assailant is on her in a second, knife in hand, ready to cut her up how he sees fit. He grabs her by the hair and lifts. She kicks and flails. He doesn’t see me as he comes closer. He phases through me and I feel nothing.

He takes her to her own room, but I’m in a different place now, standing in the corner. I can see him making the cuts. I can see the blood pooling. I don’t usually watch this closely, I can’t.

He stops and looks directly at me, the mask he wears warps and twists. He laughs.

I tear myself from the dream. The sheets have twisted around my legs and my duvet is on the other side of the room. My pillow is wet with blood and my head is pounding. They tell me excessive use of the T.R.I can have side effects. I clean myself up, pop a couple painkillers, and stay awake watching crap on the internet, trying to free my mind from the nightmare.

But I still haven’t solved that case and the nightmare lives on.