Unscripted NPC Interaction

By Mild Guy

AN: Please don't copy or redistribute this text without my permission.

Somewhere far behind, alarms continued their wailing with no response teams left alive to heed them. The stairwell was quiet as I eased up the steps towards the lobby of UNATCO headquarters. I reeked of gun smoke and leaking batteries.

Anna's blood was drying on my coat. I had taken her in one shot. Just one, but oh, what a shot it had been. A LAW rocket will do that to anyone, so it's not to brag or insult her staying power. Anti-tank ordinance is hard on flesh and bone—even when you have bones of steel and nerves of copper wire. The blast nearly killed me as well. From the other side of the room, the blow back had flung me airborne and bounced me off the cinder block wall. For a good five minutes I slouched in the Level 2 stairwell while the nanites stitched me back together, smoothed out my shockwave stirred insides, and erased the burns from my albino skin. I wondered if less of her would have landed on me if I'd bothered sniffing out her kill-phrase first before walking into a standoff.

No regrets. I respected Anna enough to bring the very best. At least she hadn't died a rotten death, like Mr. Renton. He had gone slow, writhing in his filthy clothes on a soiled carpet. That one had been my fault, too. His daughter did not believe it was happening until I told her it was over. Since that night I've come to understand just how she felt.

A few more steps and I'd run out of stairs. Ahead of me, around the turn of a blind corner, was the foyer. Through this final room, out the front door, freedom waited.

Outside, Jock's Dybbuk black helicopter idled, its rotor blades chopping the air, the racket only half as loud as ordinary gunships. My enhanced hearing caught the frantic beat throbbing through the walls. It was a mystery how Jock had known when to arrive just in time to pick me up from my jailbreak, but I had a solid guess as to who was responsible. Tonight, he would fly me to Hong Kong, where no doubt more people waited for me to kill them. So many people.

Scattered by my passing were friends I might never see again. I had left them scrambling to salvage the scraps of their old lives. Each must find again their place in this colder new world. No matter what choices I made, I walked a trail of victims. Not all of which were my handiwork.

Beneath the dead and deserted, buried under cement slab and cinder block, my brother lay cold on a steel slab.

Awareness pinged that I was stalling. MJ12 reinforcements were incoming. If they found me here they would close in, methodical and precise. I would run out of bullets and rockets before they ran out of men and bots. I wanted to survive this, but I didn't want to round that corner just yet.

Because, in the foyer ahead, Private Lloyd stood sentinel. He was the last human obstacle between me and the exit. Feeling precious seconds circling the drain of the past, I tried not to think about the genuine desire for friendship I had heard in his voice.

I lulled my worries into an uneasy sleep with a litany of maybes. Maybe Lloyd had heard me coming and figured if Anna and the small army cooling on the polished floors below couldn't stop me, then his own chances weren't so hot. Maybe he'd already ran away. Maybe he was one of the men I'd met below and struck down, never realizing it was him. In that red haze where everything blurred, where I watched myself from outside myself as my body did the things I was built to do to human beings, anything was possible.

I mounted the last step. Ground level. Freedom was a brief sprint away. I could activate my leg augs, just run past this problem. But bullets still flew faster than the fleetest cyborg feet, and the foyer offered no cover.

Gunther chose that moment to call on the Infolink. The assassin told me he would not forgive the assassination of his late partner. He would hunt me. He would find me. This he promised without saying the word promise. I believed it, for Gunther is a man of his word, spoken or otherwise. Anna was the last person on earth who understood him. As a pair, they each remembered for the other the sacrifices they had endured in service to the U.N. Together, they had shared experience of the surgeries and secret pains of cyborg life. Gunther had begun to trust me, to open a little even though I was his replacement. I, the next generation model, and he, the obsolete 'legacy asset' in an industry where being outdated was the last remaining obscenity. He secretly longed for another confidant. I had disappointed him in this regard.

Time to move. I rounded the corner.

Lloyd sat at his desk, studying his computer display. Had he not heard my foot falls?

My arm felt light with buzzing numbness, my gun hung heavy from frozen fingers. I didn't remember when I had drawn the pistol. It hadn't been to kill Anna or the sentry posted at the retinal scanner.

From here, I had several options. Best to take the silent approach. One shock with the riot prod or a tranq dart to the neck before he sensed my approach. Lloyd would wake up on a med bay slab, the military sawbones urging him to drink a NUKE! cola. But I did not reach for the riot prod tucked into my utility belt or unholster the mini-crossbow. I feared, if I switched out weapons now, Lloyd would roll out of his swivel chair into a kneeling firing posture and pick me off as I fumbled over choices. At least that was the reasoning running through my mind.

I took another step. Lloyd's hands, hovering still over the keyboard, twitched. Silent, he pushed back his chair and stood. In rising, Lloyd turned and saw me. There he froze, beside his desk.

"It's my first day, too. I'm pretty excited." That's what he had said to me a million hours ago when this night began. Before my world had gone mad.

While the other men maintained their distance, looked at me like a mechanized warrior cop god (and later, an unstable Frankenstein's monster), Lloyd spoke to me as if I were at least partially human. A human he respected, someone he had known as a mere mortal back when we attended the same academy, back before the nano-augmentation project had snatched me up and set me down in the pantheon of upgraded humanity. Perhaps he found me impressive after how easily I rescued Gunther and cleared the NSF out of the Statue of Liberty. It would've been easy for him to envy me—a field agent busy with the glorious work of defending the free world, upon whose shoulders much was laid and even more expected, while Lloyd saw himself stuck to a humble guard post sandwiched between one of many layers of comprehensive security, little more than a receptionist with a gun. Over the course of this long night, which had redefined my perhaps much foreshortened life, we exchanged as many lines of dialogue as I had with all the rest of the UNATCO boys combined. Out of all the faceless UNATCO troopers, only Lloyd stood out as an individual. I began to like him a little. I began to trust. Trust is a mistake.

Private Lloyd had yet to make a move or indicate he meant to attack me. The targeting reticle floating in my vision turned red when I centered it on his head. Red meant hostile. Red signified the killing intent present in a target. The nanites said so, and they were too smart and too stupid to lie. My vision is augmented.

"Don't sweat it. We know you had better things to do," the other grunts had said. With their assurances and platitudes they almost sounded like they were commiserating. Almost.

Lloyd did better. "Don't worry about what the guys are saying about Hell's Kitchen. If it wasn't for the warehouse, I'm sure you would've helped out in front of the hotel. I know for a fact, from when you were at the Academy, that you can do more than throw gas grenades and use a prod. They're full of it," he had said, going the extra mile to offer a speck of sympathy after I returned from the shambles of the Hell's Kitchen crackdown.

Hours ago, I sniped and lock-picked and hacked my way through every defense and trap the NSF could muster. I infiltrated their base and called down hell in the form of Gunther. It was a great victory, or so I was told. But too many boys in green had died in yet another shootout with the terrorists, this time in a Hell's Kitchen park. UNATCO grunts rushed in and got themselves mowed down like usual while I commenced my mission of infiltration. As per immemorial workplace tradition, a scapegoat must be chosen, and it fell to the new guy to accept the lash. By having more important things to do, in the eyes of my peers I had committed soft treason, sparing the NSF with my absence. It didn't help that my brother had once again proven worse than useless. He had spoken of sparing lives and handed out tear gas grenades.

Paul wasn't saying anything now. Neither was Lloyd.

He had a 9mm pistol on his belt. Standard issue. The same model I carried, but my piece was the superior gun here. Working my way through NSF sewer bases, Hell's Kitchen riot zones, and Lebedev's occupied airport I had accrued an impressive collection of weapon mod kits. Balancers for greater accuracy. Colloidal gel coating the inside barrel to increase effective range. I installed recoil reductioners, the whole works.

I raised that gun now. 2 pounds, perfectly balanced in my hand. With well oiled grace I drew a bead right above the bridge of Private Lloyd's nose.

The last words he'd spoken to me, before my fall from grace, had proven the most real. "We'll miss you, Agent. You know what they say about China, right? That's where UNATCO sends people they aren't sure of. Kind of what Central Asia used to be for the Russians. Don't get mixed up with the wrong Triad. From what I hear, that was Paul's mistake." And here we were, three hours later. Ready to kill each other.

I had repeated my brother's mistakes, and soon I would board a helicopter to China. They had been right about me from the beginning. I had justified their mistrust.

Something Lloyd had said when we first met came back to me. "I was in your class at the Academy. You probably don't remember."

He was right. I didn't remember him from back then. Would I remember him tomorrow?

Lloyd's face mask wriggled. Either he was twitching or attempting to speak. His gun remained where it was, holstered against his thigh. I looked across the distance between us. Into Eastwood eyes squinted and beady. I saw that he remembered.

My finger finished squeezing the trigger as the thought entered my mind that I should wait to hear what Lloyd had to say. This last second impulse did nothing to impede my aim. I am an excellent shot, have been ever since the academy days.

The bullet took him, dead center on the line running from chin to brow, a quarter inch below the rim of his helmet. Then I heard the shot. My ear augs dampened the noise to spare me from hearing loss. Lloyd heard none of it. I suppose they never do. With my high-tech senses, when my turn came, would I?

He dropped, the carpet muffling the thud. A spattering of blood misted over my face, somehow already cool.

I stepped through the front doors. The night was warm on my skin. The kill switch was just beginning to hum behind my ears, a promise of the gnawing sickness to come. The stench of iodine and pollution billowed past, the breeze off the dead bay stirred by the beating of black helicopter rotors. My ride was waiting for me and I didn't intend to miss it.