The last dummy's neck flopped, its unchanging blank expression adding another layer of queasiness to the jerky motion as it hit the floor. Things shaped like people should stop moving when they were broken, but apparently this early training model hadn't gotten the memo. It didn't keep moving for long, though. One hand mashed the wrists together, the other hand swept up the ankles; one boot was planted in the small of the robot's back. V's newest experiment bared its teeth and yanked.
Another crack echoed off the walls. Sam lit another cigar, more as an excuse to look down at his hands than anything.
"Amazing," said V, next to him.
"That thing is inhuman."
"Hardly. Capacity for violence is quite a human thing."
Down in the lab several assistants were clearing the wrecked robots away. They hurried past the new one without acknowledging it, despite the synthetically friendly smile on its face- or perhaps because of it. V said, "We'll try him against something real next time, I think."
"Like what, a grizzly bear? A wolverine?"
"He'd hardly be meeting those on the battlefields, Sam. No, a few volunteers versed in combat will suffice."
"A few Death Row convicts who won't be told exactly what they're getting into," Sam spat, grinding the first cigar-stub under his heel before stabbing the just-lighted one into his mouth. "I know how the Patrician's mind works." He didn't expect V to rise to the bait. He never did. If you tossed V a line, the man would wrap it around a stump and let you yank your own chain.
"If only the Patrician did. He may replace you someday, Sam," said V absently, eyes still on the grinning figure below.
"You'd replace the Watch with that? An army of that? Destroying whatever sneezes and smiling the whole time?"
"I wouldn't. City policing, I feel, is best left to to those of more... flexible talent. The Patrician, however, is a very pragmatic man."
Sam took a drag, smoke washing away the taste this talk left in his mouth. "If you were Patrician this city'd run a lot smoother."
"If I were Patrician, I would be robbing us of great cybernetic advances and myself of my greatest pleasure. Perhaps someday when the field no longer needs me I'll lower myself."
Sam snorted. He lodged the cigar firmly between his teeth and peered over the balcony. The cigar almost dropped. "Where's it gone?"
"Lookin' for me?" said an unfamiliar voice. Sam whirled. It was there, beside V in its plain white lab clothing. Except for the patches of glittering circuitry where pieces of synthetic skin had been torn away, the new one looked like any man you might see hawking souvenirs down at the harbor: bright-eyed, scruffy, unremarkable. Except, again, for the smile. It looked quite human at first- but the more you looked at it the less natural it seemed. Sam could almost have shivered.
"Sam, Carcer Dun," said V. The new one stuck out a half-skinned hand. Sam's shake was little more than a wind-up for dropping the hand with force. "It's got a name?"
"The Patrician prefers that government-issue androids have 'nicknames' in addition to unit designations, as you know," said V smoothly. "He is of the opinion that it fosters familiarity and trust within the populace."
"Plus 'Incarceration/Destroyer Unit' was a bit of a mouthful, haha," put in the new one. Sam raised an eyebrow in excellent imitation of V. "Bit of a vocal tic there."
"A minor glitch. We should be able to eliminate it soon."
"Hasn't stopped me from doing my job." Carcer's smile looked Sam up and down. "I heard where you're a peacekeeper. I'm a bit in that line myself, you might say. Built for the wars, I am. Not a man of the world like you, haha, just an 'umble specialist."
"I'm sure you'll go far quite quickly," said Sam. His tone suggested this was a hint. Carcer preened; Sam wondered where he'd picked it up from. Surely it wasn't a programmed behavior.
"You'd better go with Drumknott, Carcer," V inserted, referencing the assistant who had materialized. "That skin will need replacing before your audience with the Patrician."
Carcer bowed in a way that set Sam's teeth on edge, then departed with one arm around an uneasy Drumknott's shoulder. As they rounded the corner, Sam could have sworn he saw Carcer reaching slyly for the pencil behind Drumknott's ear. The new one turned back, winked, and finger-gunned Sam down. I'll be seeing you soon hung unspoken in the air.
"You were right," said Sam after a moment. "He's absolutely bloody human."
"In the worst way, you're thinking." V was beside him again. "Good men do not make ideal warmongers, Sam. Consider this: in the next war, he and many others will march forth instead of our citizens with families, positions, futures. Certainly your morality can appreciate such a trade. And who knows? Perhaps once the Carcers have done their work, there will be no wars to follow the next."
Sam lit another cigar with a slash of the match. "If they all end up as bloody inventive as you say that one's been made, there won't be anyone left to fight a damn war with."
V had his Look on again, the inscrutable one Sam hated. "If I didn't know you better than anyone, Sam, I might venture that you were still stewing over my comment earlier. Feeling threatened, displaced;perhaps-"
"I am not jealous," said Sam, beginning to walk, "of the new model. I just think he's a bad idea."
"Time will tell." V fell into step beside him. "However many new innovations arise, though, I also believe it will show that my first success will always be my best. The others are simply variations. Challenges."
"Flattery doesn't suit you," said Sam stiffly, although he did slow.
"It's hardly that. I built you, Sam, when I was a struggling young man barely out of undergraduate school. The Patrician and his payroll had nothing to do with you. I made you- the first Sentient Autonomous Male- not for money, fame or the greater good. You were simply meant to be, first and foremost, a good man, confidante, and friend. A student's life is a lonely one."
They walked on, past labs and offices, scientists and marvels.
"I'd best see to Carcer. The Patrician expects us at noon. I suppose you'll take this time to recharge."
"I'd better," said Sam as V's door opened and Carcer Dun stepped out beaming, newly-repaired, slicked-back and shiny. "I'm beginning to feel a little low."